One of Sterne’s lesser-read books – well, it is merely a pamphlet really; but utterly fascinating. It is in three parts:
- Part One – A story about a man who tries to claim the right to items belonging to other people, either when they have finished with them or on the basis of their doubtful ownership; his own reneging on these promises when he gets a better deal elsewhere, his sub-promising them to others; and the general dislike he incurs thereby from the rest of the village
- Part Two – An attempt on the part of various literary critics to determine the precise allegorical nature of the first part: – whether it is a representation of European politics, with the King of France in the lead role; a representation of church politics, the recent York election etc.
- Part Three – An explanation of sorts, in which Sterne admits his own authorship and gives an oblique account of the genesis of the work in the form of a series of letters.
All packed in to less than 40 pages. So yes, a very strange and interesting (not to say experimental – though, it seems, he may – as usual – have been borrowing a lot from Swift, and/or some Study Notes on Rabelais he’d been reading) work. You can read it at Project Gutenberg. – It’s history is quite interesting too: – it was burned, on publication, and apparently cost Sterne any further promotion within the church (not, I’m sure, that he was too much bothered).