These life stories may contain descriptions of childhood trauma and abuse, as well as images, voices and names of people now deceased. If you need help, you can find contact details for some relevant support services on our support page.

English writer, Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), was in kinship care from the age of nine. 

Laurence Sterne was born in County Tipperary, Ireland to Roger Sterne, a soldier in the British Army, and his wife Agnes. The first nine years of Laurence’s life were ones of instability (and poverty) as the family followed to wherever Roger Sterne was posted. 

When Laurence was ten, Roger Sterne was posted to Jamaica and he sent Laurence to live with his wealthy uncle Richard, in Halifax, England. Here Laurence received both stability and an excellent education, but he never saw his father again. 

Sterne’s rich Uncle Richard, with whom he had boarded, had given him a sight of privilege without its possession. His uncle’s son, also Richard, befriended his impecunious cousin and helped fund him through his time at Jesus College, Cambridge. His great-grandfather, eventually Archbishop of York, had been master of the college and had left money to fund scholarships for deserving undergraduates of limited means. One of these duly went to his great-grandson (Mullan).

After Cambridge, Sterne took up a position as vicar at Sutton-on-the-Forest in North Hampshire. Here he lived for twenty years with his wife, Elizabeth Lumley, and their daughter, Lydia. 

Encouraged by his uncle, Archdeacon Jacques Sterne, Sterne began writing for Whig journals, initially supporting Sir Robert Walpole but later angering his uncle with his controversial views. Sterne then turned to satire, demonstrating a wit that made him both friends and enemies.

In his late forties, Laurence Sterne took to novel writing full time.

The first two volumes of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman were published in 1759 to considerable success.  

Wildly experimental for its time, Tristram Shandy seems almost a modern avant-garde novel. Narrated by Shandy, the story begins at the moment of his conception and diverts into endless digressions, interruptions, stories-within-stories, and other narrative devices. The focus shifts from the fortunes of the hero himself to the nature of his family, environment, and heredity, and the dealings within that family offer repeated images of human unrelatedness and disconnection (Britannica).

Despite his sudden fame, in 1762, Sterne left England for France because he was suffering from tuberculosis. He continued to travel and publish volumes of Tristram Shandy, nine in total. He also published A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy in 1768.

Tristam Shandy has been adapted for radio, theatre, film, and as a graphic novel. 


Mullan, John. “Shandying It.” London Review of Books, vol. 24, no.11 (2002):13-15. 

“Laurence Sterne.” British Library.

“Tristram Shandy Novel by Sterne.” Britannica. 

Sutherland, John. Lives of the Novelists. A history of fiction in 294 lives. London: Profile Books, 2013. 

 Image available here.