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Tristram Shandy

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TRISTRAM SHANDY. (The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,) by the Rev. Laurence Sterne (1713-68), one of the most famous masterpieces in English fic tion, was begun in 1759 by way of relieving the author's mind during his wife's attack of insanity. The first instalment was refused by Dodsley in the autumn of 1759 and was privately published by the author in 1761. It had such instant success that a second edition was pub lished in April. Succeeding volumes followed rapidly, the sixth volume appearing in Decem ber 1761, but thereafter there were longer in tervals, the ninth and last volume being com pleted late in 1766 (published in 1767), on Sterne's return from a trip through France and Italy, which gave him material for (A Sentimental In spite of, perhaps because of, its popu larity, °Tristram received, as it has since continued to receive, much adverse crit icism. This was based on the minor grounds of formlessness and lack of definiteness and realistic sense and for the more important rea sons of alleged indecency. Dr. Johnson con demned it for the latter fault and it was also made the subject of burlesque and irony. Sterne, however, continued writing in his own vein and was rewarded with immediate and permanent reputation as an original humorist of high rank. With Richardson, Fielding and Smollett he is usually regarded as one of the four great novelists of the 18th century.

remains one of the most diffi cult of books to describe. Generally speaking, it belongs to the discursive, digressive, rambling, intime kind of novel best represented by Rabe lais and Cervantes, to whom Sterne constantly makes acknowledgment, and it is doubtless the prototype of such modern and more decorous novels of the whimsical kind as Autocrat at the Breakfast It is, however, unlike its originals, in that it apparently lacks the general and satirical purpose that modern critics have discerned in Rabelais and Cervantes and i because its picaresque type of adventure is al most always mental rather than physical. It is an account of the humors of odd people of vivid personality and ways of mind and it is replete with the wit and humor of special situations, persons and habits. It is the vehicle for Sterne's wit, sentiment, whims, humor, learning and notions about various particular things. So far as the author expressed his pur pose, such passages as the following tell what he is trying to do: e'Tis to rebuke a vicious taste, which has crept into thousands besides herself —of reading straight forwards, more in quest of the adventures than of the deep erudi tion and knowledge which a book of this cast, if read over as it should be, would infallibly impart with them. The mind should be ac

customed to make wise reflections and draw curious conclusions as it goes along.* (Ch. 20). work is digressive and it is progress ive too—and at the same time.* (Ch. 22). °Writing, when properly managed (as you may be sure I think mine is), is but a different name for conversation. As no one who knows what he is about in good company, would ven ture to talk all — so no author who understands the just boundaries of decorum and good breed ing would presume to think all: the truest re spect which you can pay to the reader's under standing is to half the matter amicably and leave him something to imagine, in his turn. as well as yourself.* (Ch. 36).

More concretely, the characters are the im portant thing. Only 10 figure directly in this long novel. Walter Shandy, merchant; his wife; his brother, the immortal Uncle Toby; the latter's servant, Corporal Trim; Dr. Slop; Yorick, the parson; Obadiah, the manservant; Susannah, the maid servant; the Widow Wad man, Toby's inamorata; and Bridget, her maid; besides Tristram, the showmaster. Numerous lay figures, Didius, Kysarcius, Phutatorius and others, are named from time to time to set off these principal characters, but they never actu ally appear; and there are many illustrative and digressive stories, as that of the nose and the excellent episode of Le Fever. Nearly half the book is taken up with the prenatal sur roundings of Tristram,— of the Shandy family the articles of marriage settlement, the local accoucheurs, and other such matters, and of these, the discourses of Mr. Shandy, Uncle Toby, and Dr. Slop, while awaiting the birth of the hero, form a large part. Uncle Toby, the most famous character in the book and one of the most enjoyable creations in litera ture, is characteristically described by his hobby horse, playing at fortification and the art of be sieging towns. He responds chiefly to such ideas; and yet such is Sterne's art that Toby remains immortal for his simple and generous nature. is practically without story or plot, the only connected episode being that about the middle of the novel the hero is born with a broken nose and is misnamed Tristram, to the great grief of his father. Otherwise it is all quiddity, disgression, eccentricity and interlude. Of the three hundred odd chapters, some have only a line or two, and no one chapter may be said directly to follow its predecessor. Con sult the 'Life of Laurence Sterne' by Percy Fitzgerald, the biographical criticism by Paul Stapfer and H. D. Traill in the 'English Men of Letters' series, as well as the usual his tories of English literature and the 18th century.