Orna Me: Laurence Sterne’s Open Letter to Literary History

  • Celia B. Barnes (Lawrence University)


This essay considers the curious way Laurence Sterne communicates with and reflects on his literary predecessors, most often Alexander Pope, by writing love letters to women. Focusing primarily on his correspondence with Elizabeth Draper, Barnes contends that, even as Sterne looks back to Pope to guarantee himself a place in literary history, he looks forward to women like Draper to ensure his name will survive.  Thus, erotic correspondence becomes an important way of ensuring Sterne’s literary estate, or as he terms it, his “futurity.” “Orna Me”—a phrase that means, roughly, “ornament me” or “set me off,” and that Sterne got from Pope and Swift, who got it from Cicero—allows Sterne to plug in to a literary tradition that privileges collaboration: append something of yours to something of mine. It is this idea of letter-writing as correspondence, a collaborative process between friends or lovers, that unites Sterne to his female correspondent and to literary tradition all at once.

Keywords: Celia B. Barnes, Laurence Sterne, Pope, Swift, Elizabeth Draper, orna me

How to Cite:

Barnes, C., (2016) “Orna Me: Laurence Sterne’s Open Letter to Literary History”, Authorship 5(2). doi:

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Published on
22 Dec 2016
Peer Reviewed