When Yorick returns from obtaining the passport, he is told that a young woman is waiting for him: it is the fille de chambre of Madame de R***, coming to see if he has a letter for her. Left alone together, the two are shy and flirtatious. Although Yorick finds that his thoughts are becoming inappropriate, he and the fille de chambre clasp hands for a moment. The girl offers to show him the small purse she has with her; Yorick admits that the purse is pretty and holds it with his hand on the young woman's lap. Part of the buckle on her shoe is coming off, and he holds her foot in an attempt to fix the buckle. Then he helps her up, kisses her cheek, and leads her out.
Yorick does not want to go back inside, so he stands outside the gate of his hotel and watches the people passing by. He sees a man begging, but is surprised that this man only seems to approach women.
The master of the hotel tells Yorick that he must leave: he does not want his hotel to get a bad reputation because Yorick was alone with a young woman in a hotel room. Because Yorick understands the situation and does not want to make trouble, he agrees to depart. He also tries to prove that he is not a dirty-minded fellow by buying lace from a grisset and not behaving improperly toward her. Yorick is determined to avoid the fille de chambre, and to leave Paris a virtuous man. Yet that night his dreams are troubled.
The next day, Yorick is tickled to see La Fleur dressed up and looking festive. La Fleur asks if Yorick will come to meet his mistress, but Yorick has plans to go see Madame de R***.
La Fleur leaves and Yorick consumes a little print of butter set upon a currant leaf. He sees a piece of paper attached to it and begins to translate the text printed on the paper. This text is in old French, dating from the time of Rabelais. Yorick throws the paper aside to write letters of his own to Eugenius and Eliza, but then returns to it. He translates it into English; the story printed on the text runs roughly as follows:
A notary quarreled with his hot-tempered wife, and instead of going to bed, went out into the street toward the pont neuf, a beautiful, light, graceful bridge. It was a windy night and many people struggled with the weather. The notary compared the hurricane of his wife's temperament to the hurricane of the weather. He passed a dark passage and heard a girl saying that she needed a notary. He complied, and went at the girl's behest to the bedside of an old gentleman. The man said he had nothing but his own history, a history which would no doubt rouse affection in the notary.
The fragment does not continue, and Yorick asks La Fleur about the rest of the text. Try as he might, La Fleur cannot procure the remainder of the story and Yorick is very disappointed.
Yorick explains that he likes to explore dark streets and hidden places in his travels, since he can see more in this way; he details his exploration of a passage leading from the Opera comique. Only a small candle lights it. There, Yorick stands out of view and sees two sisters of the faith. That same man who was only asking women for money approaches them, asking for a twelve-sous. Yorick realizes why the man only approaches women and why he is so successful -- because he uses flattery.
After the Mons. Le Compte de B**** helps Yorick to obtain a passport, Yorick is able to meet a number of rich and fashionable people in the weeks he spends in Paris. He relates the tale of a talkative woman, and the tale of another woman who was a deist for a time and whom he helped lead back to religion. He enjoys this sort of social life for three weeks but then grows weary of it all, finding his that his sentiments are revolting against the frippery.
Yorick now travels through the lush Bourbonnais at a time where Nature pours her bounty over the land. He decides to pay a visit to a woman named Maria, whom his friend Mr. Shandy met near Moulines. He travels to where her parents live and finds out that Maria has lost her husband, and her senses. He finds Maria sitting under a poplar, dressed in white, her mind clearly addled. Full of emotion himself, Yorick sits by her and wipes away her tears. He asks if she remembers a man from about two years ago, and she says yes, that her pet goat stole his handkerchief. She speaks of her wanderings; Yorick is moved to proclaim that he would help her if he were in his own land. Maria looks at him wistfully and plays her pipe. Yorick, despite the bond he seems to share with Maria, concludes that there is something not quite earthly about her.
For the rest of his journey, Yorick is afflicted with sorrow over Maria, but finds that his feelings and sentiments are exquisite and speak well for him.
During Yorick's further travels, Yorick's horse loses first one shoe and then a second, so that Yorick has to stop near a house. He walks directly in and is kindly welcomed by a family of peasants, who are eating dinner. After their meal, Yorick joins in with their dancing, which has a religious tinge to it.
Yorick makes his way toward Turin through Savoy and arrives at an inn. He admires the beauty, albeit the harsh beauty, of Nature.
At the inn, Yorick has his own room until a lady and her chambermaid arrive. There are no other rooms, so the landlord says that the two new arrivals can share with Yorick. There are two beds and a closet within that holds another bed. It is an awkward situation, as the beds are parallel and very close, and there is a drafty window, but the lady and Yorick devise a plan to get through the night. They decide that Yorick is to sleep in his breeches and cannot say a word until daybreak. Moreover, the curtains of the bed will be secured together to ensure privacy.
Yorick finds that he cannot sleep and utters, “O my God!” (104), a cry which distresses the lady, who claims that Yorick broke their agreement. He protests that he did not. The chambermaid hears their words and fears hostility, so she comes into the dark room. She stands between their beds and Yorick reaches up his hand and “caught hold of the Fille de Chambre’s” (104). Here the text breaks off.
Thus ends A Sentimental Journey, which remained unfinished due to Sterne’s death. It is important to note that the work does not derive entirely from Sterne’s own journeys, and is instead intended to subvert the reader’s expectations regarding the standards of travel literature. Scholar Tim Parnell calls the novel an “anti-travel book, flouting generic conventions, at both the level of form and content, in order to disturb the reader’s settled conventions.” Yorick’s journey overturns the common 18th-century association of European travel with sexual adventure, Parnell claims, because the parson did not actually do anything greater than flirt. Yorick may have sexual impulses and impure thoughts, but these are often rapidly countered by nobler ideals and he clearly accepts these conflicted views without trying to resolve their inherent contradictions. Parnell writes, “if Yorick is denied complete self-knowledge, the reader, it is hoped, can learn from his experiences.”
Now that we have come to the end of the novel, the “sentimental” component of Sterne's narrative can be discussed. While some critics attest that the sentimental side of A Sentimental Journey rings a little false, others see Sterne as sincere in both the sentimental and comic sides of his work. Gardner Stout addresses just this issue, first looking at the sentimental component of the novel. Yorick exhibits a philanthropic benevolence and a good-humored cheerfulness in the course of his journey, thus differentiating himself from other travel writers (like the disguised versions of Smollett and Sharp). Yorick acts kindly and openly toward his acquaintances, both human and animal, delighting in the particularities of the French culture that he is observing. Stout believes that Yorick's journeys address "the joys afforded us by the goods of this world which are essentially akin to the perfect joy which will be afforded us by God, the Supreme Good, in the next world, and therefore require the same faculties for their enjoyment.” Yorick consistently tries to communicate and sympathize with his fellow men; overall, his journey “can lead to a better world” if people manage to emulate him.
Stout also addresses the comic aspects of the novel, noting how it engages the theme of “the realities of acting on imperfect motives in an imperfect, though beneficent world.” Yorick, and the reader, should have a benign and comic sense of life, which can be a source of redemption and self-knowledge. Stout believes that A Sentimental Journey can be “regarded as a ‘parable’ or ‘fable’ intended to illustrate the comic perplexities, and the possibility, of fulfilling the eighteenth-century moral imperative to Know thyself.” Surely, Yorick’s impulses can be imperfect (as is evident in his encounters with the poor), but he’s not a complete fool. His dialogue expresses the “complex, double awareness combining the subjective experience of the ‘man of feeling’ and the objective vision of the man of infinite jest.” Yorick truly is a descendant of Shakespeare’s Jester, one who teaches us how to look, live, and learn.
Scholar Joseph Chadwick considers Stout’s article, as well as others about Sterne and A Sentimental Journey, and analyzes their diverging views of the novel. He detects varying opinions of the novel’s strengths and aims as related to the ambiguities of Sterne's rhetoric and narrative technique: of particular interest is how Sterne moves among “moral, psychological, and epistemological polarities.” In Chadwick's interpretation, Sterne's novel is intended to illustrate the problems inherent in an individual’s interpretation of experience -- how to reconcile thought and emotion with sense perception. Throughout the text, the reader has to navigate the waters of communication and interpretation that Yorick himself treads as he talks mainly to himself. Chadwick explains that the scene with Maria showcases Yorick's vacillation between sexual and sentimental feelings (for Maria herself), a vacillation which creates ambiguity here and elsewhere in the text. Yorick has a “double role as narrator and protagonist” and often exhibits a “sudden shift…from recounting dramatic interaction to narrative commentary.” Yorick should be the novel's center of consciousness, but his “ambiguous rhetoric prevents us from making any meaningful interpretations of him as a self.”
Yorick’s sexual experiences are like his sentimental adventures in that they seem spontaneous. Yorick uses language to enact and fulfill his desires, and his encounters are always rendered either as imaginative possibilities or as hints of unmentionable events. For Yorick, “sexual desire and its expression are dependent upon an imaginative act to reach a consummated completion”; these incidents are “as much self-directed as other-directed.” Chadwick stresses that Sterne's main character always requires imagination to complete his verbal communications. Yet the end of the novel requires our imagination: we know that there was physical contact between the fille de chambre and Yorick, but little beyond that. Chadwick sums up his central argument as follows: “Sterne’s project is to make the reader-as-interpreter penetrate his rhetorical veil of ambiguities to find that the story is lost, that the reader’s interpretation must invent it. That is the basis of the freedom his subjectivism bestows.”