*The Centre for the study and development of narrative.

20 Sep 2004
4:51 pm

The Case of Hezekiah and the Messengers

An exciting new contemporary art venue for York opens at St. Mary's, Coppergate with an exhibition, A Light Crescendo, showing works by major contemporary artists including Langlands and Bell, who have been nominated for this year's Turner Prize, Lawrence Weiner, Jaume Plensa, Gary Webb, David batchelor and Angela Bulloch.

On September 23 at 6.30pm a recitation of one of Laurence Sterne's last sermons will be given to shed a spiritual light on the events programme.

The sermon, The Case of Hezekiah and the Messengers, was first delivered in March 1764 at the English Embassy in Paris. Francis Seymour-Conway, first Earl of Hertford, was appointed English ambassador in April 1763 and the embassy became the centre of social life for the English in Paris. The embassy chapel was not a consecrated building or room but an institution. It was convened in whatever large room was available and followed the embassy wherever it went. When Laurence Sterne arrived in Paris the earl had recently acquired the Hotel de Brancas and the English community eagerly awaited the completion of the renovations to the building.

Sterne was invited to preach in the embassy chapel on Sunday 25 March 1764 and received the invitation from Earl Hertford the day before. He chose the story of how Hezekiah showed his palace to the messengers from Babylon as this text would allude to Lord Hertford and the Hotel de Brancas.

Two points need to be kept in mind. Firstly, Sterne (in his fiftieth year) was physically very weak and had suffered seven life-threatening attacks in the previous two years. He had ' long and obstinate coughs and unaccountable hemmorages in my lungs — I am foretold by the best physicians…. that 'twill be fatal to me to preach…'. Secondly, he decided to alter the text of his sermon and introduced a more vividly drawn version of Hezekiah's downfall which involves wives, concubines, boxes of ointment and treasures that are not mentioned in Holy writ. It was a foolish move by Sterne and one that caused offence - although the sermon itself was re-written for publication in 1766 with the genuine biblical text.

This sermon was preached in the Grand Gallerie, an elegant room with chandeliers, mirrors and tall windows overlooking over the gardens and the River Seine. Over 250 guests attended including the philosopher David Hume, the political refugee John Wilkes and possibly Diderot.

The sermon is a fascinating discussion of hypocrisy and integrity with interesting moral reflections and insights. This reading is the first occasion that it will have been heard in this country.

Source for notes: 'Laurence Sterne — The Later Years'. Cash, A. Methuen. 1986. pp.178-187.

The full text of the sermon can be downloaded here

30 Aug 2004
10:12 am

'Great Spunky Unflincher': A Transcript of Jonathan Coe's 2004 Laurence Sterne Annual Memorial Lecture

The full transcript of Jonathan Coe's 2004 Laurence Sterne Annual Memorial Lecture can be downloaded (PDF) here.

The transcript has an introduction by Martyn Bedford which is reproduced in full below;

"I have a hazy recollection of a short-lived TV series in the 1960s, or possibly early 70s, in which boxing matches were staged between fighters from different eras, their roles enacted by pugilistic lookalikes. Muhammad Ali versus Rocky Marciano is one such bout that sticks in my mind. The idea was that the boxers' relative strengths and weaknesses were fed into a computer and the two body-doubles would act out the predicted outcome of the contest. It has occurred to me, especially during several years' involvement with the Ilkley Literature Festival, that the concept would lend itself neatly to staged pairings of non-contemporaneous writers. Joyce versus Dickens, for example. Or Kelman versus Kafka. Non-violent, naturally (the idea of Woolf and Austen engaged in topless mud-wrestling holds little appeal, though no doubt a website exists.) I'm thinking more along the lines of invigorating mental sparring on writerly themes and the fiction-making process, scripted by experts and played by actors. As far as I'm aware nothing of this sort has been tried. However, we had the next best thing when the novelist and literary biographer Jonathan Coe delivered a talk on B.S. Johnson at the Laurence Sterne Trust's annual lecture. For there, in spirit, were Sterne and Johnson — duelling intellectually, as it were, through the medium of a modern writer who (as the text of his lecture demonstrates) has captured the creative tensions and affinities that resonate between these two dead souls. Among the one hundred people who packed the Huntingdon Room of the King's Manor, in York, I suspect there were more Sterne fans than Johnsonites. Yet, by the end of a fascinating, entertaining and well-received talk, it was apparent that B.S. Johnson left the arena with his held held high, if a little battered and bruised. Much as he did in life."

11 May 2004
8:32 am

Jonathan Coe Lecture

Jonathan Coe will give the Laurence Sterne Annual Memorial Lecture on Friday June 11th at the King's Manor, York. The lecture will coincide with the publication of Coe's latest book, Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S.Johnson.

Coe describes his approach;

My strategy will be this. Many of the people picking up this book will not (regrettably) have read anything by B. S. Johnson before. Revered though he is by a few, he is unknown nowadays to most British readers under forty. So I shall begin by explaining, in a little more detail, what it was that he wrote and that I think he achieved. After that, pace Milan Kundera, I shall have to bring myself to knock down the walls of his house and we shall take a wander through the rubble, perhaps shaking our heads in awe and wonderment at the melancholy grandeur of the ruins we find there. Then, by way of interlude, we shall listen to some different people talking about B. S. Johnson, arguing amongst themselves even though these are - in most cases - people who have never actually met each other. And last of all, a short coda. In which I shall attempt to put forward my own, highly personal - and, yes, speculative - thoughts about the forces that may have been driving him in his last few days and hours: a 'transcursion into his mind' - to use Johnsonian language - or even (the phrase is from his fifth novel, House Mother Normal) 'a diagram of certain aspects of the inside of his skull', as he gets ready to compose his final message to the world; to write his very last word.

Before we get that far, however, I hope there will be plenty to enjoy along the way. We're talking about novels, after all, and novels, even gloomy ones, are supposed to cheer us up, to provide recompense, when life isn't all that it should be. Supposed, in short, to give us pleasure.

Aren't they?

In his heyday, during the 1960s and early 1970s, B. S. Johnson was one of the best-known young novelists in Britain. A passionate advocate for the avant-garde in both literature and film, he gained notoriety for his forthright views on the future of the novel and for his idiosyncratic ways of putting them into practice. His innovations included a book with holes cut through the pages, and a novel published in a box so that its unbound chapters could be read in any order. But in November 1973 Johnson's lifelong depression got the better of him, and he was found dead at his north London home. He had taken his own life at the age of forty.

Jonathan Coe was born in Birmingham in 1961. His novels include What a Carve Up!, The House of Sleep and The Rotters' Club. He lives in London.

4 May 2004
3:11 pm

An Interesting Article...

This Is Not a Hypertext, But...: A Set of Lexias on Textuality by Michael R. Allen make strong reference to Tristram Shandy's role in the history of hypertext as well as specific reference to Sterne's use of the asterisk...

27 Apr 2004
8:40 am

Tom Phillips at Shandy Hall

Tom Phillips writes in the catalogue for his exhibition 'We Are the People' that he sees his exhibition of portrait postcards as 'an alternative National Portrait Gallery'.

At the NPG about 1,000 cards from his collection of over 50,000 are displayed under distinct and delightful categories: 'Fantasy Transport', 'Charabancs', 'Make Believe: Children', 'Prizwinners'. The section entitled 'Aspidistra' shows the sitter and the plant in a variety of predictable and unlikely photographic situations. 'Picnic', records the happy occasion that 'is windless and midge-free' as picnicers wave sandwiches and smile for the camera.

All of the people shown in this exhibition are anonymous and the comments in the visitors book ('wonderful', 'deeply moving', 'hugely enjoyable') record the pleasure the public are deriving from this show at the National Portrait Gallery.

Anglican Clergymen are not represented at the NPG but Tom Phillips has given them a special place in his project by making a selection of anonymous parsons for the exhibition of his works at Shandy Hall, Coxwold.

The connections between Phillips' work and Shandy Hall are reflected in the works chosen

The original drawing for his mural at Preston Church and the beautiful collage and steel crucifixes link Phillips with the sacred; his remarkable skulls made of bronze and glass echo the fate of the jester Yorick, so closely identified with the North Yorkshire parson.

Sterne's playful experiments in non-linear narrative have their counterpoint in Tom's 'Humument' series of reworked texts.

There is much to see and marvel at in this exhibition by Tom Phillips R.A. in the Old Granary Gallery but the exhibition is unusual in that it spills out into the village of Coxwold. The Post Office window and 'The Fauconberg Arms' also have works on view making this a truly 'We Are the People' event.

The exhibition continues until 20 June. Open every day except Saturday

11.00 — 16.30. Telephone for enquiries: 01347 868465. Admission Free.


20 Apr 2004
11:07 am

Moving Stories

As part of plans to develop Shandy Hall as a centre for the study and development of narrative construction, The National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE), in collaboration with Asterisk*, are launching a new creative writing competition as an annual event. The theme or focus will vary in future years but this time we felt it appropriate to link the competition with Moving Stories.

This year is the 200th anniversary of the world's first steam locomotive journey and, as part of its bicentennial celebrations, the National Railway Museum has joined forces with NAWE and KMA to create a special website called Moving Stories. Anyone will be able to add their own writing to the Moving Stories website and it promises to be the the first truly international online writing event with such popular appeal. Everyone has stories to tell about journeys they have made, momentous or merely anecdotal. But this is also the chance to set off on imaginary journeys and see them come alive for other readers on the web. We'll be looking for social history, essays, short stories and poems - anything that expresses the train's impact on people's lives. Travellers' stories from around the world will be collected on the Moving Stories website where they will join forces with a range of historical and literary contributions from Dickens to Paddington Bear.

Starting on 10 May and continuing throughout the following month, Ian McMillan will be writer-in-residence, highlighting new contributions to the site and providing an ongoing editorial. Afterwards, the best contributions will be archived into a permanent collection.

NAWE Patrons Beverley Naidoo and Gillian Clarke are amongst the writers already contributing to the site.

The competition is open to NAWE members, the prize being a one week writer's retreat at Wolfson Cottage in the grounds of Shandy Hall, North Yorkshire.

29 Mar 2004
8:35 am

Chicago AWP 2004

Towards Real Hypertext: A Shandean Adventure.

Gary McKeone (Director of Literature at Arts Council England), Paul Munden (Director of NAWE), Kit Monkman (Creative Director of KMA) and Patrick Wildgust (Curator of Shandy Hall) gave a joint presentation to the American Writers Conference in the Palmer House Hilton Hotel, Chicago on 26 March. The presentation lasted for 75 minutes and was very well received by the audience. Great interest was expressed in the plans for asterisk* and strong contacts have been made in the USA and Canada. Leaflets were distributed to all the Literary Journals and presses that attended the book fair and the panel were delighted that a number of those who attended described the presentation as 'the gem of the conference'.

18 Mar 2004
10:28 am

Tristram Shandy Film?

On Thursday 18 March, a representative from Revolution Films visited Shandy Hall. The purpose of the visit was to explore the potential for the house to be used as a location for a film of Tristram Shandy which is due to begin shooting in early Spring 2005. Director: Michael Winterbottom; writer: Frank Cottrell-Boyce and actor Steve Coogan. The interior of the house was filmed on a portable digital film camera as was the garden and exterior. Coxwold church was also included.

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(* The Centre for the Study and Development of Narrative.)