Taking Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey as a case study, this article explores how mid-eighteenth-century novels of sensibility theorized mediation—and by extension, the very act of reading. Sentimental fiction draws attention to the instability of individual feeling in a media culture where a network of people, things, and texts intermingle in commercial society. Working through the epistemology of possessive individualism, sentimental fiction tends to question whether individuals really own their feelings. The form of the novel mirrors this concern to challenge the relationship between texts and the world the novel represents. Sterne continually exposes the ontological instability of both texts and readers in a networked commercial environment; just as Yorick is affectively led astray by accidental encounters with people and things, readers are also exposed to narrative disruptions. This essay argues that these symptoms are not a sign of sentimental fiction's failure to achieve formal realism but an indication of how sentimental fiction participated in a historically specific culture of reading that emphasized the continuity between textual representation and the world of everyday experience.

You do not currently have access to this content.