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Music and Modernity in Laurence Sterne: The Dialectics of Harmony and Dissonance

Pierre Dubois
p. 229-242

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1As is well-known, Laurence Sterne was an amateur musician who played the violin and – probably – the cello and bass viol. In the Memoirs he wrote for his daughter, he explained that “fiddling was one of [his favourite] amusements” (Letters 4). Various biographical indications testify to his knowledge of the repertory of string concertos that was the mainstay of English musical societies in the middle of the eighteenth century (Holman 84). The prevalence of musical elements in Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey is therefore not fortuitous. In Laurence Sterne and the Origins of the Musical Novel, William Freedman argues that Tristram Shandy was a fundamentally “musical” novel in that it borrowed not only a certain number of its features, forms and metaphors, but even structural elements, from the art of music. Werner Wolf considers on the other hand that “the pervasive musicalization” of Tristram Shandy perceived by Freedman (188) can be reduced to only a few elements and does not go beyond “the dubious ‘metaphorical impressionism’ that is often to be observed in the use of musical terms in literary criticism,” (Wolf 86) yet he concedes that Tristram Shandy “could be shown to foreshadow some musicalizing devices which have become important in the subsequent history of musicalized fiction,” (233) in particular James Joyce’s Ulysses which is another “experimental and aesthetically self-conscious novel” (144). The musicalization of fiction in Tristram Shandy might then be considered one of the key elements of its modernity.

2I intend to explore this notion of modernity – and the paradox of its making – in Sterne’s works in the light of the part played in it by music, or more precisely by the notion of harmony. What I mean to investigate is whether Sterne’s use of music in his literary work falls within the traditional pattern of musical metaphors or denotes, on the contrary, a deliberate intention to break away from it, thus opening the way for modernity. My contention is that, on this question as on many others, Sterne plays with ambiguities, apparently aligning himself with quite a traditional topos, only in order to subvert it. As Thomas Keymer has remarked, the modern novel is indeed “the medium par excellence of generic hybridization and polyglossia” (61), so that Tristram Shandy can be interpreted both as belonging to the tradition of “learned wit” and as being “post-modern” (Gurr 20). I will suggest that the harmony between individuals –which is tackled in terms of the traditional trope of musical harmony – is considered contradictorily both crucial, and finally illusory or impossible, leading to what Alain Bony has called “the aporia of sentimentalism” (272). I would like to suggest that the modernity of Sterne’s works seems paradoxically to cohabitate with, and to be erected upon the ruins of an ancient world, upon the brittle foundations of dated philosophical conceptions and rhetorical devices, while at the same time those works themselves dismiss the latter and undeniably look forward to a new age.


3According to the traditional, Western conception of tonal harmony, all dissonances must finally be resolved. Dissonances are only tolerated transitorily. If they are necessary to provide elements of variety within the musical discourse and to create delicious harmonic tensions the resolution of which makes it possible to recover pleasing sensations, dissonances or discords cannot remain indefinitely the way they are, as Francis Hutcheson explained in his Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725). The pleasure of “harmony” or “beauty of sound,” which may be included under what he calls “original beauty,” stems from uniformity: “No Composition can be harmonious, in which the Notes are not, for the most part, dispos’d according to […] natural Proportions.” But Hutcheson acknowledged that

there is indeed observable, in the best Compositions, a mysterious effect of Discords: They often give as great Pleasure as continu’d Harmony, whether by refreshing the Ear with Variety, or by awakening the Attention, and enlivening the Relish for the succeeding Harmony of Concords, as Shades enliven and beautify pictures […]. (35)

4The merit of dissonance is thus that it guarantees variety within a general principle of uniformity.

5Similarly, since the Renaissance, the numerous allusions to music in literature and the references to the opposition between harmony and discord had generally been used as metaphors of the passage from dramatic situations of conflict, tension or disorder to a final return to peace, order and resolution. The traditional literary metaphor of musical harmony aimed at the eventual overturning of discord and consequent restoration of order – the order that one assumed was to be found in nature. One expected to find in the mathematical proportions of music a model that might provide a better understanding of man himself (Finney 21-22). In such a system of thought, discords were used as signs of disorder that had to be superseded and overcome by some necessary return to harmony. Literature was full of images and metaphors of musical strings that had to be tuned, which suggested an analogy between the human body and the universe.

6A cursory reading of Sterne may give the impression that his references to harmony, the “string” metaphor, the great “Sensorium of the World, which vibrates,” the various allusions to discord or the tuning and harmony of the self, reflect such a traditional conception and are to be understood as an antithesis to the perceived disorder that reigns in the world of Tristram Shandy. Sterne resorts to the age-old, complementary metaphors of string vibrations and musical harmony, which contribute to the definition of the man of sensibility as both a nexus of nerves and a receptacle of social emotions (Bony 271). Man’s “heartstrings” (originally a physiological term) vibrate like musical strings and human sensitive and emotional behaviour can thus be perceived through physiological manifestations. One could argue that the harmony metaphor works precisely so as to provide elements of order in an otherwise complex, unstable and uncontrollable world. Carol Stewart considers that “the disorder and incoherence of the work are only apparent” and that, all in all, Tristram Shandy provides a kind of “harmony-in-disharmony” (Stewart 157). For her, “one finds the same language of harmony and concord” in Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) as in Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. Total unanimity between individuals may not be possible but a kind of optimistic agreement or concord can eventually be reached. Thus, the world of chaos and disorder that the reader is presented with in Sterne’s works would eventually be resolved in Latitudinarian tolerance, mutual sympathy, and harmony (Stewart 132). As Alain Bony showed, the notions of good will, good humour, good works and good nature, which were central to Latitudinarianism, constituted a key foundation of sentimentalism, transforming as they did the selfish quest for happiness into social benevolence (264-65). Music invades the characters and imposes its very mode of existence onto them. It becomes synonymous with the constitution of man, as well as with social relationships. Tristram suggests that what matters primarily is “being in tune with [one]self, […] no matter how high or how low you take it” (Tristram Shandy 4.25, 374). The “preparation and resolution of the discord into harmony” would then be the “all in all” (4.6, 331). And, since language is not reliable (as illustrated by Uncle Toby whose life was “put in jeopardy by words” (2.2, 101), the musical principles of harmony and discord contribute to structuring the relationships between individuals better than words. Music translates the emotions that hide behind words and, as John C. Leslie has written, it thus becomes “a catalyst of mid-eighteenth-century sentimentalism” (55).

7Maria, more than anyone else, embodies that musicalization of the whole human being, in that she can both feel and express emotions through her flute or her singing that she would not be able to express verbally. Like Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, she may not be able to express herself rationally but she can sing and make herself understood beyond words – musically. Maria herself is the very embodiment of music. She is defined by the emblem of the pipe she carries. One can read the episode therefore as a confirmation of the traditional topos of musical harmony expressive of the emotional harmony between individuals. Music is the only solace for her deranged mind, which is at one with contemporary theories of the cure of disorder thanks to music. When Yorick’s and Maria’s tears mingle in Yorick’s handkerchief, it is suggested – beyond the obvious sexual innuendo of their “fluids” being symbolically mixed, as John Donne’s blood and his mistress’s in the flea that has sucked them one after the other – that they reach a state of harmony and mutual understanding through the process of sympathy and the passage would then be a moment of stasis or rest in an otherwise disrupted world. Music transcends the dilemma of sentimentalism and operates the “reconciliation,” so to say, between the (basely) physical and the (divinely) ethical.

8Taken at face value, the Maria episode seems therefore to validate the ancient conception of the harmony metaphor and to align Sterne with a classical theory of art. In this perspective, William Freedman considers that “the attempt to harmonize dissonant and discordant contraries is among the chief motives behind the musicalization of fiction” (50). In this view, music is thus the ultimate medium whereby Sterne resolves the contradiction of his narrative and points towards a possible “way out” of the disrupted world that he depicts. Harmony eventually prevails and the numerous dissonances and contradictions find themselves resolved in some sort of harmonious aesthetic. There is thus a strong case to be made for the ability of musical metaphors in Sterne’s novels to provide a model of personal balance and social harmony, summed up in the notion of “true Shandeism,” which “opens the heart and lungs and […] forces the blood and other vital fluids of the body to run freely thro’ its channels” (4.32, 401). And, tellingly, music is often associated with joyful occasions in which individuals can commune. For instance, in A Sentimental Journey, in less than five minutes La Fleur, Yorick’s servant, makes the whole household, including “dogs and cats, besides an old monkey,” dance in the kitchen to the sound of his pipe and join in the general merriness (Sentimental Journey, “The Letter. Amiens” 59). Music “tunes” people together and offers a model of harmonious social intercourse (Berget 96).


9The question which Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey constantly beg, however, is whether one should read them within, or against the pre-existing and dominant literary and aesthetic tradition. My contention is that accepting the fact that the obvious references made by Sterne to the traditional notion of harmony are to be taken at face value is not consistent with the general bent of his narratives. Sterne does indeed play with the notion of the “tuning” of the heartstrings and resolution of discords into harmony, in the same way as he does at times resort to the vocabulary and tropes of sensibility, or assert the most obedient agreement with the tenets of conventional religion – yet at the same time he constantly undermines such claims through irony and finally presents us with a sceptical conception of the world that is quite at variance with any idea of resolving disorder into lasting harmony. And this, precisely, is the foundation of his modernity. I wish to suggest that, beyond (and in spite of) particular allusions in the text to the possible resolution of discords into harmony, the structure of the novels points altogether in the opposite direction. Sterne’s art is essentially about dissonance and non-resolution and the harmony topos is therefore a delusion more than an attempt at, or a belief in, any possible resolution.

10As has been observed by so many commentators, the world of Sterne’s fiction is indeed one of chaos. Again, the Maria episode may be taken as a good instance of the ambiguity and mode of disruption articulated in Sterne’s writings. If, on the one hand, the passage can be read as a kind of idealised moment of harmony, sympathy and feeling, as we have seen, it is not free from ambivalence, as has been shown by many writers. The shift from the sensual to the religious, the blend of erotic titillation with compassion, Yorick’s obvious, deliberate hankering for a “moment” of sensibility and sympathy that however provides no solution to poor Maria’s predicament beyond the sharing of tears positively enjoyed by Yorick himself – all this makes Yorick’s sincerity highly questionable. Stephen Ahern writes that Maria is “the epitome of what he [Yorick] has been searching for: the perfectly passive victim to act as the catalyst for a self-defining feast of emotion” (107). Yorick is essentially preoccupied with himself and his own emotions and, Ann Jessie Van Sant writes, he “involves himself in the distress of the ‘disordered maid,’ in order to create a psychological event in himself” (99). The scene, then, is not all of a piece: the ethical dimension allegedly propounded by the sentimental communion between the two characters is as it were undermined, or “burlesqued,” as Ahern writes (108), by the sensory and sensual mode by which it is attained. “Sentimentalism” is fore-grounded as an ideal stance, the purpose of which is to endow the subject with ethical distinction, although such a distinction depends–paradoxically – on bodily sense perception for its emergence.

11In Tristram Shandy, the moment of apparent harmony reached by Tristram and Maria, via the musical experience or exchange, is short-lived. Immediately after his emotion as he listened to Maria’s “tale of woe” played on her pipe, Tristram falls back into the “normal,” terrestrial world and mentions the “excellent inn at Moulins” (9.24, 784). In the light of Freedman’s theory of Sterne’s musicalized fiction, this abrupt exclamation could be called a resounding discord in the celestial harmony that has just been depicted: poor Maria’s fate is dismissed and forgotten, mutual sympathy replaced with selfish enjoyment and melancholy superseded by pleasure. The chapter does not end in consonance but in disruption. The moment of epiphany brought about by the musical encounter between Yorick and Maria has no lasting effect. Harmony is not the dominant principle attained, or even pursued, by Sterne. Dissonance rules in Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey – both musical dissonance and human dissonance. Harmony is the exception, the dreamt-of, but unlikely state that is only reached transitorily. Accordingly, Alain Bony underlined the paradox of the sentimental elaboration of a harmonious universe:

C’est peut-être précisément parce que le xviiie siècle sait confusément que l’ordre et l’équilibre du monde sont démentis par la réalité des choses, à tous les niveaux de l’expérience humaine, qu’il dresse ainsi devant les menaces de désagrégation le rempart d’une théorisation poétique et cosmétique, qui lisse et gomme tout ce qui pourrait nier le souverain principe de bienveillance et de compassion. Il n’y a pas grand-chose dans les vicissitudes de l’existence individuelle qui s’impose comme la preuve éclatante de l’harmonie universelle. (Bony 272-73)


12Whenever harmony is attained, its reality is belied by the rest of the text. A few instances may be mentioned briefly. Let us consider for instance the passage in Tristram Shandy in which Tristram meets a group of country folk near Montpellier who invite him to join in their dance. Their singing, playing the “tabourin” and dancing can be seen as an ideal representation of pastoral happiness: “Viva la Joia! Fidon la Tristessa” (7.43, 650), they exclaim. The scene, however, is torn between harmony and dissonance: whereas Nannette, the “sun-burnt daughter of Labour,” invites Tristram to dance with her, the “nymphs [joining] in unison, and their swains an octave below them,” the desired harmony is destroyed by Tristram himself, incapable as he is of forgetting that “cursed slit in [her] petticoat.” Everything invites him to yield to the “current of life,” as Dr. Johnson put it in Rasselas, but Tristram rejects that possibility:

I would have given a crown to have it [the slit in the petticoat] sew’d up—Nannette would not have given a sous—Viva la Joia! was in her lips—Viva la Joia! was in her eyes. A transient spark of amity shot across the space betwixt us—–she look’d amiable—–why could I not live and end my days thus. Just disposer of our joys and sorrows, cried I, why could not a man sit down in the lap of content here–—and dance, and sing, and say his prayers, and go to heaven with this nut brown maid? Capriciously did she bend her head on one side, and dance up insidious–—then ’tis time to dance off, quoth I; so changing only partners and tunes, I dances it away from Lunel to Montpellier—–from thence to Pesçnas, Beziers—–I danced it along through Narbonne, Carcasson, and Castle Naudairy, till at last I danced myself into Perdillo’s pavilion […] (Tristram Shandy, 7.43, 651).

13Tristram sees the possibility of happiness and harmony, symbolized by the dance, the music and the enticing charm of the girl, but the “spark of amity” between them is only “transient”: in this passage, one of the most genuinely poetic in Tristram Shandy – beyond the sexual innuendo of the “slit in the petticoat” – what is at stake is the conflict between a simple, easy, carefree form of social harmony emblematized through music and dancing, and the impossibility for Tristram to partake in it. The model of sociability and free sexual contentment encapsulated in the dance with Nannette is eventually discarded by Tristram as he dances away all by himself. Immediately after this, both chapter and volume paradoxically end on the words “I begun thus—– / End of the Seventh Volume,” a striking dissonant contradiction in terms (begun/end) that leaves a bitter after-taste in the wake of the musical evocation that has just been so forcibly painted.

14Sterne leaves dissonances unresolved and gaping – as the “open-ended end” of A Sentimental Journey illustrates – and that this is one of the fundamental marks of his modernity. As Marcia Allentuck has suggested, Tristram Shandy belongs to the category of the non finito, i.e. a work of art the incompleteness of which is intended and purposeful. If the Sternian text is full of musical allusions – notably to the vibration of a string associated with the notion of sentiment and the sensitive harmony between individuals – the strategies of interruption, disruption, discon­tinuity and open-endedness in the text seem to testify to a calling into question of the very possibility of ever attaining lasting harmony. By systematizing dissonance as he does, Sterne essentially departs from the classical ideal of harmony (which implies closure).

15As Werner Wolf has remarked, the paradox is that whereas Tristram mentions music as a metonymy for “just proportions and harmony,” in fact Tristram Shandy does not follow an aesthetics of “equipoise and balance,” and “proportions and harmony” are not the major principle of the novel (88). The model of harmony the text aspires to emulate is offered by music, so that the author’s first rule is to “be in tune with [him]self” in order to reach that state of harmonious excellence. It is only by imitating music that literature can hope to reach that other, “heavenly” world. But can literature do so? It does not seem so: behind the appearance of concord, harmony, or pleasurable polyphony, what Sterne underlines ironically is precisely the reverse. The “harmony trope” is deceptive. Whereas classically-defined harmony is an attempt at controlling music and a means of doing so through a set of rules, Tristram is a “breaker of rules:”

The deuce of any other rule have I to govern myself by in this affair —and if I had one—as I do all things out of all rule—I would twist it and tear it to pieces, and throw it into the fire when I had done—am I warm? I am, and the cause demands it—a pretty Story! is a man to follow rules—or rules to follow him? (4.10, 337).

16Tristram’s transgressions are incompatible with a fixed definition of harmony. I would argue that, rather than buttress or consolidate the meaning of the text, the references to music contribute to undermining it. They testify to a wish for a form of expression that words actually prove incapable of reaching. Polyphony, for instance, cannot satisfactorily be adapted to the literary text because it is not the normal discursive mode of spoken or written language, which is linear. One cannot properly “read” two lines at the same time, the way one can hear them sung together. This appears clearly in one of the most transgressive passages of Tristram Shandy, when the Abbess of the Andoüillets and Margarita divide between them the words “bouger” and “fouter” so as to avoid committing a sin by pronouncing unchaste words. The text is then laid out as polyphony on a musical score:

Thou shalt say fou—and I will come in (like fa, sol, la, re, me, ut, at our complines) with ter. And accordingly the abbess, giving the pitch note, set off thus:

Abbess,     } Bou - - bou - - bou - -
Margarita,  } ––— ger, - - ger, - - ger
(7.25, 614)

17The nuns’ moral transgression is thus accompanied, supported and paralleled by the formal transgression that suddenly invades the printed text. Textual polyphony threatens the very chronological and linear rules that define a written (non-musical) text. As such, the text is unreadable, as is the canon – so to say – between the Latin text of the excommu­nication and its English translation on the opposite page, which defies the inner logics and patterns of reading. As William Freedman remarks, “the writer’s plague is music’s virtue” (Freedman 54). In spite of their apparently concurring to, or taking part in the same “concert,” uncle Toby and Dr. Slop are not of the same mind when they perform a kind of duet together. Tristram paints what appears to be a musical “conversation piece” for the reader to enjoy: “[…] my uncle Toby, taking the advantage of a minim in the second bar of his tune, kept whistling one continued note to the end of the sentence – Dr. Slop with his division of curses moving under him, like a running bass all the way” (3.11, 207-09). Yet this polyphonic duet cannot in any way be construed as evidence of “harmony” between the two men: not only do they profoundly disagree, since Toby disapproves of Slop’s extreme cursing and pities the devil himself, but the two lines of the duet are also of a different kind since a proper musical line, Toby’s so-called “interjectional whistle,” is superposed to spoken words. The two men “speak” different languages and their parts remain utterly independent from one another – just as Slop’s Catholicism is barely reconcilable with Toby’s orthodox Church of England beliefs. The musical metaphor Sterne resorts to is therefore approximate and humorous, but absolutely not conclusive. The scene is “aestheticized” in Tristram’s account of it, but the harmony thus depicted hardly amounts to more than a strategy of wish fulfilment: the narrator may aspire to a representation that combines opposites in a pleasing formula or figure, but in reality the world is not such a place of harmony.

18In the same way, what seems to be a simple attempt at tuning a violin actually ends in transgressive verbal cacophony once transcribed into words:

Do you know whether my fiddle’s in tune or no?—trut..prut..—They should be fifths–—’Tis wickedly strung—tr...a.e.i.o.u.-twang.—The bridge is a mile too high, and the sound-post absolutely down,—else—trut..prut—hark! ’tis not so bad a tone.—Diddle diddle, diddle diddle, diddle diddle, dum. (Tristram Shandy 5.25, 443-44)

19What may be musically meaningful when one tunes a fiddle cannot be rendered adequately in a written text and onomatopoeias are a pathetic avowal of the shortcomings of language. Imported inside a literary text, musical expression becomes transgressive as evidenced by the undecipherable musical annotations inserted by Yorick in his sermons:

What Yorick could mean by the words lentamente,—tenutè,—grave,—and sometimes adagio,—as applied to theological compositions, and with which he has characterized some of these sermons, I dare not venture to guess.—–I am more puzzled still upon finding a l’octava alta! Upon one;—–con strepido upon the back of another;—–Siciliana upon a third; —–Alla capella upon a fourth; —–Con l’arco upon this; —–Senza l’arco upon that. —–All I know is, that they are musical terms, and have a meaning; —– and as he was a musical man, I will make no doubt, but that by some quaint application of such metaphors to the compositions in hand, they impressed very distinct ideas of their several characters upon his fancy,—whatever they may do upon that of others. (6.11, 515).

20Werner Wolf reads this passage of what he calls (somewhat abstrusely) “whimsical intradiegetic excursion into the field of musical intermediality” as “a complete failure to evoke a musical reality—at least in the reader” (87). Expressing musical sounds and using musical devices adequately in words is impossible (89). As Wolf remarks, what Sterne highlights through this attempt at musicalizing his text is the fundamental, “[i]nsurmountable difference between music and (literary) language.” The importation of musical devices in the literary text “[lays] bare the metafictional, metalinguistic and even intermedial problems” (89). Tristram Shandy is probably one of the first texts thus to reflect on the possibility of a “musico-literary intermediality” (92). It is not only that, as Werner Wolf claims, these passages can be read as instances of the incapacity of language to give the impression of music but also, and more essentially, that they highlight the expressive limitations of language itself: if it is not “musicalized,” language fails to reach the heart of the listener, but, if musicalized (as in Yorick’s sermon), it becomes ambiguous and difficult to interpret. Music in the Sternean text is a means to question the validity of language and the limits of rational knowledge.


21In an irrational, unstable, chaotic world, where both perception and language prove constantly unsatisfactory and inappropriate, the only possible refuge that remains is “sentiment, that intuitive, sub-verbal, sub-rational response to the plight of mankind,” as Stuart Sim puts it (111-12). Music matters in Sterne’s books, not because it offers the ancient philosophical, neo-Platonic perspective of the resolution of discords into harmony, but because it asserts the predominance of feeling and sentiment over reason and, concomitantly and consequently, it opens a modern breach in the very modalities of verbal expression. Music comes into play in the Sternean text when words prove inadequate for translating or expressing ideas or feelings. Sterne envisages music as the ultimate form of the untranslatable and ineffable (Dubois 220-35). In spite of its allusion to the classical notion of harmony, Sterne’s texts are looking towards the future rather than to “the forms of the past” (Stewart 28). It seems appropriate therefore to stress Sterne’s modern conception of music as a medium that has acquired a high degree of autonomy in relation to semantic signification. It is precisely because music is sub-verbal, non-semantic – meaningless, in other words – that it can express so much in a world where meaning has ceased to be fixed. Tristram Shandy is modern because it recognizes and accepts heterogeneity and ambiguity, which are metaphorically encapsulated in music once the latter is emancipated from words.

22In Sterne, the dialectic relationship between harmony and discord seems therefore to be reversed: with him, it is harmony which becomes a transient state in a chaotic and discordant universe. Harmony is a chance encounter in a world ridden with dissonance, as are the haphazard and short-lived moments shared by Yorick the sentimental traveller and this or that fine lady or charming grisset. Sterne’s novels thus overturn the “discord vs. harmony” topos inherited from the Renaissance. Stuart Sim writes about Tristram Shandy that it is

a world where chaos is periodically punctuated by brief moments of respite in the form of remorselessly deterministic causal sequences: a world that is in its very essence discontinuous, catastrophic, non-rectifiable, and paradoxical. In each case determinacy exists within indeterminacy, certainty within uncertainty, in a manner calculated to call individual free agency into question. (109)

23Similarly, then, not only does harmony exist in Sterne’s writings within disharmony, as Carol Stewart has observed, but it does so only transiently. Just as some critics have aspired to re-order, or to find order in Tristram Shandy, reconstructing its intentionally disrupted chronology, sanitizing Sterne’s bawdiness, or insisting on its overall optimistic philosophical contents, to project onto the text the classical notion of the resolution of discords into concord is therefore to run the risk of fundamentally misunderstanding of Sterne’s essentially sceptical and disturbing modernity, a feature which aligns him rather with David Hume.

24Hans C. Werner has tackled Tristram Shandy in terms of the scientific theory of chaotics, or “chaos theory” (Werner passim) according to which chaos signifies not just “disorder” but a great complexity and abundance of information. It is a complex system consisting of a fusion of order and disorder. Werner defines what he calls a “non-linear” development as the result of a surfeit of information. From this perspective, I argue then that Sterne’s modernity lies in his acceptance of the compatibility of opposites. The ultimate “harmony” eventually reached by Sterne does not consist in resolving discords but in accepting their inevitability. Both the resolution of disharmony into harmony, and the reverse, that is to say the impossibility of ever reaching lasting harmony, are equally true in Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey, thus creating an ambiguity and a constant tension which characterize these works as belonging essentially to the modern epistemology of relativity.

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Pierre Dubois, « Music and Modernity in Laurence Sterne: The Dialectics of Harmony and Dissonance »XVII-XVIII [En ligne], HS3 | 2013, mis en ligne le 15 juillet 2016, consulté le 24 octobre 2020. URL :; DOI:

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Pierre Dubois

Pierre Dubois est agrégé d’anglais et Professeur des Universités à Tours. Auteur d’une thèse sur l’orgue en Angleterre au XVIIIe siècle, il a élargi sa recherche aux théories d’esthétique musicale, à l’histoire culturelle et à la littérature anglaises au XVIIIe siècle. Il a publié de nombreux articles et plusieurs livres, notamment une édition critique de l’Essay on Musical Expression de Charles Avison (Ashgate, 2004) et La conquête du mystère musical en Grande Bretagne au siècle des Lumières (PU de Lyon, 2009), Prix de la Recherche 2010 de la SAES et de l’AFEA. Il prépare actuellement un livre sur la représentation de la musique dans le roman britannique du XVIIIe siècle. Il est organiste titulaire de l’orgue historique F.-H. Clicquot de Souvigny (03) et directeur artistique des Journées Musicales d’Automne de Souvigny.

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