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Analysis Of Tristram Shandy

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5682 words Published: 21st Apr 2017

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Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, the nine volume book which conquered London’s literary bazaar throughout the years of its publication from 1759 to 1767, has served over the way of its response as a working example for reading literature and idea side by side. Yet still in this extended and multicoloured history of Sterne admiration, “side by side” has frequently proved to be a question of understanding philosophy as literature’s basis and the means to its logic. In much of the secondary work on the novel, Sterne’s indicates to empirical psychology seem as clues to a line of influence which leads, dependent on the turn of the critic and his or her background either back to a Lockean faith in self-knowledge and to a Humean scepticism with its residual stress on the realm of social accountability and the merits of mental association, or forward to the terrain of modernism, with its insistence on the constitutive power of language itself. From the ongoing measured attempts to monitor Sterne’s use of Locke to the conviction, instigated by John Traugott in 1954, that Sterne’s dramatization of rationalism shares much with David Hume’s positive account of association, this complex critical history is well rehearsed, and its variants soundly warranted by Sterne’s liberal borrowing from each of the well-stocked Rabelaisian, empiricist, and Augustan shelves of his own library. (David, 1987)

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Tantalizing evidence allows us to glimpse the emergence of Tritram Shandy as Stern regrouped and redirected his new found energies as a writer. These include an unpublished “Fragment in the Manner of Rabelais” (an exuberant and somewhat self-implicating satire on plagiarism in sermon writing); a report that Stern had composed an allegorical send-up of theological controversy about the Book of Job; and two self-promotional letters to prospective publishers in London. The first of these prepublication pitches describes the work in progress as a universal satire, “taking in, not only, the Weal part of the Sciences… but every Thing else, which I find Laugh-at-able in my way.” In the second, Sterne reports that all local or parochial elements have now been removed from the text and proposes brining out two test volumes “to feel the pulse of the world”. (Letters, 74, 80 mentioned in: David, 1987)

As published in York in December 1759 and London the following month, the first instalment of Tristram Shandy not only reflects these origins in a collision between traditional Anglicanism and Rabelaisian or Scribleran satire. It also reads as much more novelistic in approach as Sterne’s satirical forays of the previous year, creating a vividly represented fictional world even as it throws in question the efficacy of fictional representation. In tension with generic belatedness of its learned wit elements, moreover, Tristram Shandy lodged an appeal to fashionable metropolitan taste that both dramatized and enabled Sterne’s leap from provincial obscurity to international celebrity status. Hogarthain aesthetics, Voltaire’s bestselling “Candide” (1759), and war-inspired novels like the anonymous “Life and Memoirs of Mr. Eprai Tristram Bates, A Broken Hearte Soldier” (1756) are among the instalment’s more obviously voguish touchstones. Novelty is identity flaunted above all the narrative’s every move, the structural, rhetorical, and typographical peculiarities of the text combining to proclaim its double freshness as a novel exercise in the novel form. Stern reinforced the effect in practice by publicly performing the dual self engineered in his text, writing letters as Tristram and frequenting pleasure gardens as Yorick, conspicuously consorting all the while with the A-list of cultural and political life: leading parliamentarians such as William Pitt and John Wilkies, the star actor David Garrick, the society, portraitist Joshua Reynolds, the controversialist and pundit William Warbuton. (David, 1987)

Literature Review

Tristram Shandy was a natural touchstone for James Joyce as he explained his attempts “to build many planes of narrative with a single aesthetic purpose” in “Finnegans Wake (1939)”, and Virginia Woolf found in “A Sentimental Journey” an experimental prototype of stream-of-consciousness narration. Sterne’s dazzling repertoire of meta-fictional devices continues to be exploited by writers of postmodern fiction, and his global reach is apparent in the work of Carlos Fuentes, and Milan Kundera. (Bakhtin, 1981)

Accompanying the creative interest in Sterne’s technical innovations and disruptions, influential works of narratology such as Viktor Shklovsky’s “Theory of Prose (1921)”, Wayne C. Booth’s “The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961)”, and Wolfgang’s Iser’s “The Implied Reader (1974)” have been explicitly informed by Tristram Shandy. It is above all as a novelist that Stern’s twentieth-century revival was achieved, and the predominance of the novel-centred approach in post-war criticism is admirably illustrated by Jone Traugott’s volume of 1968 in the Twentieth Century Views series, for years the defining case-book of essays on Sterne and still a valuable repository of landmark readings. Traugott included Shklovsky’s account of Tritram Shandy as a parody of realist convention, and essays of other aspects narrative technique, including the manipulation of plot, time and first person, occupy the bulk of his casebook. But Traugott also represented other perspectives, including his own influential account of Tristram Shandy (in his 1954 monograph Tristram Shandy’s world) as a work that was indeed permeated by Lockean thought, but in an irrelevant mode of burlesque, resistance, and critique. For Traugott, Tristram Shandy’s relation to the Essay Concerning Human Understanding was above all adversarial, a heady miss of witty subversion and metaphysical interrogation that pushes Locke’s Sceptical method to the point of collapsing his system. The Sterne who emerged from this analysis- a secular modern, preoccupied by absurdity and alienation, but finding redemptive connection to the world sentiment and sympathy – has provoked a wealth of subsequent debate. The fashion for reading Trisham Shandy as a proleptic demonstration of modern intellectual systems – existentialism, phenomenology, chaos theory – has now receded; in its place, a rigorously historicized body of criticism has reassessed Sterne’s relationship to eighteenth-century sentimentalism in its diverse aspects, philosophical, physiological, and philanthropic. (Bakhtin, 1981)

Like many other literary authors of the eighteenth century, Sterne is engaged in debates crossing what we now think of as the disciplinary boundary between philosophy and literature and, despite its celebrated status as an inaugural work of modern fiction, Tristram Shandy intimately incorporates nonfictional forms of political and philosophical inquiry. One of Tristram’s more celebrated briefs to his reader is a witty but revealingly knowing description of Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding:

Suggesting that Tristram’s autobiography is another such “history book,” Sterne nods to his novel’s own performance of reasoning as at once a flighty extension and a bringing down to earth of empirical psychology: as a “rational subversion of reason” (Traugott, 1954, p. 18) which overturns Locke’s judicious attempt to account for the causes of ideas, to separate passion, association and wit from proper modes of understanding, and to subject ideas to analysis-all by taking Locke’s attempt to chart the workings of the mind literally.

Walter Shandy, Tristram’s unfortunate father and the book’s most eager mouthpiece for the Lockean system, is frequently shown quoting almost directly from Locke’s Essay, professing earnestly on the way in which “in every sound man’s head, there is a regular succession of ideas, which follow each other” (Traugott, 1954, p. 225). He is famously upstaged, however, in this linear rationalism by the “hobby-horse” of his brother Toby, whose zeal for reconstructing military events brings a quirky and fanatic line of interpretation to every aspect of his experience, and by the novel’s reader, whose preference for sexual innuendo is assumed and fostered as a crooked reading of every tale the book offers. In these terms, Tristram’s attempt as a narrator to account for himself causally in terms of whom his father would approve enacts the fallibility of reason which prevents philosophy from applying to life. While Walter’s reckonings are disrupted by Toby’s sentiments and fanaticism, by the drawnout and misbegotten occurrence of events, and by the reader’s wilful arena of misinterpretation, Tristram’s own description of Walter and Toby is distracted by the “scampering of discourse from one thing to another” for which he is so well-known as a narrator (Traugott, 1954, p. 222). Despite being a self-proclaimed attempt to take the invectives of empiricism to heart, what Tristram Shandy actually illustrates is that “our preconceptions have . . . (you know) as great a power over the sounds of words as the shapes of things” (Traugott, 1954, p. 717).

The well-known scene in which Uncle Toby arrives, ripe with the discovery that he is in love, to pay court to Mrs. Wadman makes it clear that communication will always have to contend with association. In this scene, the lusty Mrs. Wadman asks the question about Toby’s war wound that has gone conspicuously unasked for eight books of the novel: “And whereabouts, dear Sir, quoth Mrs. Wadman, a little categorically, did you receive this sad blow?” “In asking the question,” Tristram tells us, “Mrs. Wadman gave a slight glance towards the waistband of my uncle Toby’s red plush breeches, expecting naturally, as the shortest reply to it, that my uncle Toby would lay his fore-finger upon the place” (Traugott, 1954, p. 514). But instead, Toby answers by asking Trim to fetch the map of the area where he was fighting at the time of his injury-and on which he plans to point out to Mrs. Wadman the exact “whereabouts” of his wound. Here, both Toby and Mrs. Wadman serve as cautionary examples in subjective association: Toby in his dogged innocence reads “whereabouts” too literally, while Mrs. Wadman, in her lust, expects an answer focused on Toby’s potency.

These fields of miscommunication become inevitable in the novel, and Sterne does not suggest that any practice of Lockean self-observation will overcome them. Instead, he offers two modes of conspicuously non-rational understanding as possible rejoinders to this failure of understanding. One is the inter-subjective mode of sentiment, so often activated by Sterne as a tenderness which characters within the novel share with the reader for Uncle Toby. Defying blunders in rational communication, sentiment enfolds the reader in a mode of collective experience even as it cultivates his or her apparently untoward state of feeling. The other is the intra-subjective mode of reflection, which Sterne uses to expose the fictional and constructed nature of his autobiography and to encourage the reader to approach it in an explicitly aesthetic mood of appreciation. Tristram asks the reader to engage with the constructed nature of the work, leaving him or her with few possibilities of reading it credulously-for instance, as a life story. But in stressing the autonomy of his literary product from history, Sterne asks that his novel be encountered and judged as an object of quality rather than of truth. His deference to the reader’s process of discernment is not just incidental, signalling quixotic confusion, but fundamental to his emphasis on the inter-subjective life of his text: invoking the modes of appreciation and pleasure which accrue to the reader of literature, Sterne ousts rationality and recasts the search for an empirically verifiable world as the search for a common life of wit, taste, and aesthetic appreciation. (Gibson, 1990)

Here we arrive at the basis of the comparison between Sterne and David Hume. It is this turn against Locke, made through an overextension of empiricist psychology rather than a clean turn against it, which has led to readings that emphasize the sceptical gestures of Hume’s philosophy and the moral and aesthetic aspects of his social theory. In setting out to demarcate the legitimate realm of human knowledge, Hume’s Treatise takes up many of the lines of rational investigation for which Locke’s Essay was canonized. But whereas Locke had stressed the capacity of consciousness to keep track of the life of which it was conscious-largely by bracketing out and warning against the vagaries of wit, association, and passion-Hume situated these anomalies at the core of intellectual life. Bringing causality and extension under a level of intense scrutiny-by observing, for instance, the measure of assumption involved in listening to a door open and connecting it to the imminent arrival of a body in the room-Hume could conclude that the very categories by which we make sense of events rely on what Doherty (1978, p. 85), likening Hume to Sterne, describes as an “empire of the irrational and inconvenient, but natural and unavoidable” that comes to power in the interstices of empirical certitude.

The terrain of Hume’s naturalism, like Sterne’s experiment in taking Locke literally, manages at its most extreme to banish reason to the unserviceable extremities of intellection: we have no logical assurance that the table will move when we push it, but we must nevertheless assume that it will. As the case of Walter seems to show, being “master of one of the finest chains of reasoning” (Doherty, 1978, p. 172) and “a philosopher in grain” in no way gets you out of the bind which the unreasonable nature of life and family puts you in, and in the context of which reasoning itself can emerge as just one of the quiddities of human belief. This provocative blow to logic, which the portrait of Walter and the arguments of Hume inflict with respective flourish, has its balm, though, in the advantage of bringing the associative and aesthetic realms of non-rational jurisdiction legitimately to the philosopher’s attention. Hume’s anti-metaphysical conclusion is that “the natural result of the Pyrrhonian doubts and scruples . . . is the limitation of our enquiries to such subjects as are best adapted to the narrow capacity of human understanding” (Doherty, 1978, p. 192). With this turn, the failure of reason produces a kind of doubling in which the sceptic- and here we can begin to think of the overlap between Hume and Sterne as promoting respective realms of moral, political, and aesthetic security in the wake of metaphysical uncertainty-pursuing and defending logic as far as it will go, finally draws on another realm of importance in which intuition and felt response rise up in defence of sensory evidence. In Traugott’s terms: “Sterne developed the forlorn frustrations implicit in Locke’s theory, and back into the resultant void marched the passions” (Traugott, 1954, pp. 81-82).

In swivelling away from metaphysical certainty towards the realm of the social, the polite, and the economic in his later writings, Hume makes it clear that his project is not to lay reason aside altogether, but to produce another realm of jurisdiction. In his own words, this is the “vulgar” realm of everyday experience: “when I view this table nothing is presented to me but particular perceptions, which are of a like nature with all other perceptions. This is the doctrine of philosophers. But this table, which is present to me . . . May and does exist separately. This is the doctrine of the vulgar, and implies no contradiction.” (David, 1978, p.634) While Hume’s claim brings the subjective nature of experience to our attention, it sets out to legitimate belief as an alternative to metaphysics.

In Sterne’s terms, in the final reckoning, scepticism will always be subject to the retort, not quite to the point, but successful enough in achieving a practical register of truth, that “the philosopher (need) use no other argument to the sceptic who disputed with him about the reality of motion, save that of rising upon his legs and walking across the room” (David, 1978, p. 87). The point at which walking becomes an adequate response to the dispute over motion is analogous to that “awakening” to which, according to Hume, a Pyrrhonist is inevitably subject as his reflections are pressed back into the service of everyday life: “When he awakes from his dream, he will be the first to join in the laugh against himself, and to confess that all his objections are mere amusement, and can have no other tendency than to show the whimsical condition of mankind, who must act and reason and believe” (David, 1978, p. 191).

This willing concession to the intersection of “vulgar” experience and philosophical evidence, which licenses emotion and belief as valid realms of philosophical attention, has been the basis for what has become more or less the critical consensus that Hume serves better than Locke as Sterne’s philosophical counterpart. Like Hume, Sterne lets the flood of doubt rise high. The sermon which Trim reads to Walter, Toby, and Dr. Slop in the second volume of the novel seriously refutes the possibility of self-knowledge. Depicting man as “a bubble to himself,” Sterne demonstrates that passion and prejudice interfere with conscience as a reliable measure of truth. But the state of insecurity which the sermon temporarily invites in its audience is quickly resolved as a question of belief-its radical suspension of self-knowledge bounded by “a theological conservatism all too aware of the implications of an experientially defined sense of self.” (Elizabeth, 1988, p 105) In thus upsetting the possibilities of knowledge, Sterne might be accused of conservatism. His challenge to the Enlightenment conspires in many ways with his role as a member of the Anglican clergy, since it sustains the most intimate realms of life and belief as bastions against empirical inquiry. Yet, insofar as Sterne took his spirit of deconstructive play in radical and sexually suggestive directions-to the extent, in fact, that his ministry was publicly questioned-his conservatism can also be explained as less a matter of the case he made than of the space he made it in. Sterne used the genre of the novel, with all the possibilities of secular and pleasurable pastime it suggested to the eighteenth century reader, to contain the political and religious implications of his philosophical conclusions. Carol Kay stresses this playful space of Tristram Shandy as an inaugural one for the political musculature of fiction, arguing that Sterne cultivates the world of his text as an apolitical eddy in the relatively established mainstream of political life.

The “antididactic aesthetic” which Kay finds in Sterne is based on a sense of social stability being vested elsewhere: “the scene of play in Sterne is so free because we are constantly reassured that someone else somewhere else . . . is taking care of things, looking after the state” (Carol, 1988, p. 222). Here, the reading of the sermon which takes place within the novel is, for instance, defined by the fact that the Jacobite uprising to which it refers had died down into relative stability for the Church of England.

While Hume’s drama of despair and redemption reclaims the “mereness” of language as a form of social materiality in chronologically divided scenes, Sterne’s strategy is to render language “mere” and material at once. Sterne is fascinated with the idea that the linear movement forwards, so strongly connected with the allure of reading fiction, can be replaced with a more complex process of narration in which the constitutive power of language clashes with the digressive tale it tells. His practical resistance to the idea of narrative sequence finds echoes in Tristram’s resistance to Locke’s theory that the mind acquires knowledge in an orderly and progressive way, as well as in his resistance to a developmental theory of history-a view Tristram smartly satirizes in his description of that “great harvest of our learning, now ripening before our eyes” whose “slow steps of causal increase” can only forecast a circular return to our beginning pre-linguistic (David, 1988, p. 72). Sterne’s alternative to these jettisoned models of linearity is “the machinery of [his] work,” where “two contrary motions are introduced into it, and reconciled, which were thought to be at variance with each other” (David, 1988, p. 81).

In contrast to the many examples of eighteenth-century sentimental epistolary novels where the pen, falling at crucial moments from Evelina’s, Pamela’s, or Werther’s hands, forces a break in the first-person narrative and thus suggests the priority of immediate sensual experience over written record, Tristram’s report on his experience as a writer lends itself unbroken and un-exhausted to the page. In a literal sense, his failure to catch up with event offers material evidence of life passing in a way which life itself could not provide. We can think, for instance, of Pamela’s closet where, in contrast to Tristram’s, life is always breaking in upon her otherwise relatively orderly narrative.

Epistemologically, then, Sterne’s approach to writing models the possibility of an object constituted through a familiarity with its own failure to be known: how else to imagine the autobiography of a character who quite literally fails to conceive of himself? Hume’s table cannot speak to us of its existence outside our perception of it. But this is precisely what Sterne seems best able to do. Through Tristram’s self-familiarity, he shows the instability of objects, even while producing Tristram squarely within the realm of material evidence. This achievement has much to do with the way in which literary forms of inclusion- wit, innuendo, satire-can avoid the rigors of ratiocination and yet remain in view within horizons of familiarity. However, it also involves the specificity of literary language. In its aesthetic dimension, literature makes something tactile out of words, even words like Sterne’s, which express doubt about tactility. As James Swearingen writes, in Tristram Shandy “language does not just facilitate communication: it establishes the phenomenal horizon in which speakers and things spoken about are constituted.” (Swearingen, p.177)

In other words, rather than having consciousness attempt to verify the object to which it refers (which becomes Locke’s model of the self) or to give up on this project and show that the conceptual life can say nothing definitive about identity or causation (which would be one description of Hume’s project), in Sterne’s terms, consciousness can give up on knowing its object in direct proportion to the way in which it becomes an object itself. This is a formulation that defies the relation of doubt and reassurance that at first promises to make Hume as applicable as the philosophical “key” to Tristram Shandy. Even in the thick of Sterne’s most sceptical reflections on rationality, where language becomes most ludicrously linked to pun and innuendo, something concrete emerges. Thick and out there in the realm of tables, as literature, Sterne’s exercise in humour and style partakes in and of the phenomenological horizon that Swearingen describes. If Sterne’s novel shows language at its most figurative, it also, quite literally, puts words together as a novel which claims the reader understands. With this mechanism of literalism and figuration, contained in the specific identity of text-as-literature, the dialectical materiality of Tristram Shandy replaces the chronological division of scepticism and belief which Hume orchestrates. In suggesting this, one would not want to relieve Sterne from any of the charges of conservatism which are laid against him as a protractor of Hume’s scepticism. In contrast to the many who celebrate the freedoms of Tristram Shandy, my sense is that the forms of “unity,” binding object and subject by intertwining figuration and literalism can be read as a conservative unity, designed to intercept the experience of doubt at its origin, as much as they can be read as a sign of the literary object’s traditional autonomy. (Loveridge, 1982)

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Instead of moving from the problem of epistemology to its solution, Tristram Shandy makes the articulation of the problem part of the solution. While Tristram announces his forthright doubt about the possibilities of empirical certainty, Sterne produces one of the literary objects which most fully united London’s eighteenth century readers. He openly creates the consensus of taste which Hume tends rather to “discover” or to assume in the society he addresses. (Lodwick, 1966)

Making this distinction, we return to the claim that Tristram Shandy configures the epistemological quandary differently from Hume-while both Hume and Sterne respond to scepticism with literature and letters, wit and taste; Sterne uses this forum to stage a “safe” but dialectical version of the sceptic’s debate. Here, as a work of fiction, Tristram Shandy denies knowledge both of the status of a problem at all and the possibility of resolution. Because the materiality of language- the very thing which occupies and interests Sterne as a way to attract the reader’s aesthetic agreement-is also a sign of its liability to interpretation, Sterne’s demonstration of the impossibility of empirical certainty is dynamic and ongoing. In contrast to Hume, who arrives at naturalism as a point of closure, Sterne’s self-conscious aesthetic practice simultaneously and inextricably secures agreement and acknowledges contingency. (Elizabeth, 1992)

In a concept that Locke labelled the “association of ideas,” he discerned that the arrangement of ideas in the mind can take natural and unnatural forms. Water and wetness, pain and injury, and cotton and cloth, are natural associations, for they conform to universal experience (Jenkins, 1983, p 39). Unnatural associations, however, can happen by “chance” or by “custom”: a person’s fear of blue clothing resulting from painful experience with police, or linking Armani suits to prestige or intelligence. Locke realized that faulty connections can substitute for impartial reasoning and lead to ideological error. Such irrational association of ideas, he said, ‘gives sense to jargon, demonstration to absurdities, and consistency to nonsense’ (quoted. in Jenkins, 1983, 40-41). This potential for misinterpretation is Tristram Shandy’s playground.

The “perplexities” that threatened to retard the healing of Uncle Toby’s wound consisted of the difficulty of explaining clearly the technical details of where and how he received the wound; he would “oft times puzzle his visitors, and sometimes himself too.” He thought of getting a “large map of the fortifications of the town and citadel of Namur.” He did so, and that was how his hobby got started. (David, 1972)

Tristram thinks about certain objections that will be made by the critics, and he answers their charges. He reaffirms that his book is a history “Of Who? What? Where? When? “— “It is a history-book, Sir . . . of what passes in a man’s own mind.” He cites John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, pointing out that Locke’s interpretations do not apply, and he says that Uncle Toby’s “life was put in jeopardy by words,” not by ideas.

Toby gets his map and studies it. He learns more and more about fortified towns (like Namur) and begins to study all manner of military writings on military architecture, ballistics, trajectories, and projectiles. Tristram fears for his uncle’s health, and he urges him – as if he were actually there at that moment – to give it up: “Intricate are the troubles which the pursuit of this bewitching phantom, KNOWLEDGE, will bring upon thee. . . . Fly – fly – fly from it as from a serpent… O my uncle! My uncle Toby”

Tristram tells why he ended the chapter at the “last spirited apostrophe” (it was for the sake of letting it “cool”). Good writers must consider these matters of emphasis and proportion.

Uncle Toby gives up the study of projectiles and turns to the “practical part of fortification only.” He begins to long mightily for his recovery, although we don’t know yet what he has in mind. Tristram will tell us in the following chapter what Toby has in mind, and after that, “’twill be time to return back to the parlour fire-side, where we left my uncle Toby in the middle of his sentence.” (New, 1994)

The wound begins to heal nicely, so Toby and his servant, Corporal Trim, embark for Shandy Hall in the country. The reason is that Toby’s bedside table was too small to hold all his books and apparatus. When he asked Trim to order him a larger table, Trim suggested that they go to Toby’s estate near Shandy Hall; there, under Uncle Toby’s expert direction, he would construct on the lawn scale models of the fortifications, complete in every particular so that “it should be worth all the world’s riding twenty miles to go and see it.” Uncle Toby blushed with joy at the idea, and they are off on his hobby-horse.

Tristram says that the history of their campaigns will make an interesting “under-plot in the…working up of this drama,” but later. “At present the scene must drop, and change for the parlour fire-side.” (Pinker, 1994)

n reviewing the character of uncle Toby , we can see some unique conception on the relation of mind to body. This also gives us the hint how far is Trisham Shandy influenced with Locke’s work. What Tristram discloses at the beginning of the story about the mind of uncle Toby is that his uncle is a man of honour, rectitude and extreme modesty, and his unparalleled modesty is chiefly due to “a blow from a stone, broke off by a ball from the parapet of a horn-work at the siege of Namur, which struck full upon my uncle Toby’s groin.” (Tristram Shandy, p.72)

From a psychoanalytic point of view it is possible to define uncle Toby’s modesty as an inferiority complex in the case of the affair with widow Wadman. In an analysis of mental operations comes the truth that male characters, unlike female ones, sustain substantial and irreparable injuries. Walter Shandy has been afflicted with sciatica that is much connected with Tristram’s being begotten in March.

“And being somewhere between fifty and sixty years of age, at the time I have been speaking of, – he had likewise gradually brought some other little family concernments to the same period, in order, as he would often say to my uncle Toby, to get them all out of the way at one time, and be no more plagued and pestered with them the rest of the month… “That on Lady Day which was on the 25th of the same month in which I date my geniture… But pray, Sir, What was your father all December, January and February?- Why, Madam – he was all that time afflicted with a Sciatica.” (Tristram Shandy, p.72)

It goes without saying that Tristram undergoes some physical damage given from his birth. Corporal Trim receives a wound on his knee by a musket-bullet at the battle of Landen. And let me add that extremities as severe as death itself come to such male characters as Yorick, Bobby Shandy, Tristram’s eldest brother, Hammond Shandy, Tristram’s great uncle, and lieutenant Le Fever. It is not too much to say that Sterne’s major male characters, even if they escape death, suffer from chronic diseases which have something very much to do with affairs with women who are characterized as being practical and materialistic.

Consider the effect caused by Mrs. Shandy in the opening chapter of Tristram Shandy and the tactics of widow Wadman in the affair with uncle Toby. Here the author’s primary concern is with the major male characters’ posture as they face their female partners.

“As was hinted above, uncle Toby’s ‘fortification’ done for pleasure makes us aware of the fact that uncle Toby, frustrated by his interiority complex and anxious to keep away from women, devotes himself to this hobby… Sciatica with which Walter Shandy has been afflicted is linked to Mrs. Shandy’s stupidity in the openening chapter of Tristram Shandy. As proof of Sterne


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