Is Laurence Sterne one of the great Christian apologists? Ryan Stark recommends him as such, perhaps to the detriment of the parson’s roguish reputation. The book’s aim, however, is not to dispel roguishness but rather to discern the theological motives behind Sterne’s comic rhetoric, from Tristram Shandy
and the sermons to A Sentimental Journey
. To this end, Stark reveals a veritable avalanche of biblical themes and allusions to be found in Sterne, often and seemingly awkwardly in the middle of sex jokes, and yet the effect is not to produce irreverence. On the contrary, we find an irreverently reverent apologetic, Stark argues, and a priest who knows how to play gracefully with religious ideas. Through Sterne, in fact, we might rethink humour’s role in the service of religion.