a literary stroke of genius

from Emblem of My Work:

After the success of the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne was commissioned to produce more. The bookseller who had sold copies of Volumes I and II, James Dodsley, published Sterne’s sermons under the title The Sermons of Mr. Yorick in 1760. In January 1761, Volumes III and IV of the novel became available to purchase, so 2011 marks not only the publishing of the volumes but also the 250th anniversary of Sterne’s most remarkable literary stroke of genius – the marbled page contained in Volume III.

If you carefully examine page [ 169 ] in Vol. III in the original edition, four fold marks define the edges of the marbling and also create the surrounding margins. The central section of p.169 was laid upon the marbled mixture in order that a coloured impression could be taken as cleanly as possible. It was left to dry and then reverse-folded so the other side of the paper could also receive a marbled impression. This side of the paper became page [170]. So, the marbled page in every copy of Vol. III (in every edition*) is different – each impression being a unique hand-made image.

In the text opposite on p.168, Sterne tells the reader that the next marbled page is the ‘motly emblem of my work’ – the page communicating visually that his work is endlessly variable, endlessly open to chance. *contemporary editions have printed marbled pages, the majority in black and white, so the whole point of the multi-coloured marbling is rendered meaningless.

One Response to “a literary stroke of genius”

  1. My Process Diary Says:

    I adore this book!

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