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Profile Image for Lisa.
991 reviews3,320 followers
January 1, 2020
Before I start my review of this delightful classic, I have to tell you a short anecdote from my teaching life. But don’t worry, it is not really a digression at all, as it is leading directly to the essence of this novel. It actually has more relevance for Tristram Shandy than many of the anecdotes Tristram himself tells in his story. If it is a digression, (which I formally dispute, partly because you can’t really digress before you have begun, and partly because it is crucial for the review’s essential development), BUT IF it should be considered a digression (by the harsh standards of formal review guidelines and rules), it certainly is of the noble Tristram-kind known as a “progressive digression”.

It is also quite modest and unpretentious, as it won’t need any footnotes, and it won’t come with Latin quotes either, or with omitted or ripped out chapters. It will simply be a short introductory tale - setting the stage for the review to come.

Here it is then, without any further announcement!

Anecdote leading to the formal beginning of the review:

I used to teach a very peculiar class for a couple of years. They were known throughout the school for their lively interest in everything and for their almost inexhaustible talent for digression. Whatever you set out to teach them, they took over and formed a lesson of their own according to their curiosity and enthusiasm. You had to prepare for their classes in exactly the opposite way compared to all other groups. In other lessons, you were trying your best to stimulate interest and to engage in interactive discussions to keep the students remotely awake, but with this set of adolescents you had to plan some deliberately, excruciatingly boring elements in order to curb their energies, and to guide them towards some kind of focus. They had so many questions to ask, so many anecdotes to tell, so many viewpoints to argue, that you simply did not get to finish a single chapter in the history book on time. That, of course, is inconvenient as you can’t postpone the assessment of the Grade 8 curriculum to Grade 10.

One day, when I was particularly tired - it was the last period in the afternoon - I lost control of their discussion. Whoever has taught a lively class knows what I am talking about. You realise all of a sudden that you are completely off topic, that there are centuries of history to wade through to get back to the starting point, and that the class machine is running full speed towards the edge of reason. All hands were up, everyone wanted to share opinions and life stories, and I wanted to wrap up and go home. What to do? Slowly, steadily I started to take over the conductor job again, to guide the diverse contributions towards my goal, to rein in the cacophony of voices. We were just about to reestablish order and to close the chapter of the initial digression that had got the unruly crowd started, when one boy raised his hand and threw in another random thought, pointing straight towards new chaos. I finally lost my only superficially kept temper and yelled:


From then on, that became a standard saying in the class, a sure card to play to get them to laugh.

Little did I know that they were complete amateurs, compared to the master Tristram Shandy!

While my class just managed to make the analysis of the effects of crop rotation in the Industrial Revolution turn into something as closely related as revolutionary pop songs in the 21st century, Tristram manages to fill 8.5 hours of audiobook time to get born, while eagerly discussing his own nose, noses in general, his Uncle Toby, and the different dogmas of Protestants and Catholics, and several other important topics, including his name and the line of beauty and Don Quixote etc. etc. etc. (and I promise you that those enigmatic “etc” fill several hundred pages!).

He accurately calculates that he won’t be able to finish the account of his life and opinions, as he is spending so much time on a couple of hours that he consistently accumulates years of backlog in his narrative. It runs in the family, as his father set out to write a pedagogical work for him, the Tristopaedia, which never caught up with the growing boy.

While we glimpse quite a lot of Tristram’s family, their lives and their opinions, he is rather mum about his own person, always finding more important topics to talk about. Closing the novel, I know more about the mortality of Trim’s hat and about the amours of Uncle Toby than about Tristram himself. But that doesn’t really matter, for most of all, I know that the modern novel has some work to do to catch up with this experimental classic.

What a pure joy to see the narrator tear the body of the novel open and show the scaffold of it in its artificial randomness. And what additional spice to get bits and pieces of Tristram’s erudition, wit, and sense of humour. Who needs a plot, anyway? Isn’t that more artificial in the end than a long dialogue on the pleasures and pains of dividing a work into chapters?

Do I really need to know the details of a love story when the essence of love is rendered in alphabetical order instead?

“Love is certainly, at least alphabetically speaking, one of the most
Devilish affairs of life - the most
Iracundulous (there is no K in it) and
Lyrical of all human passions: at the same time, the most
Ridiculous - though by the bye the R should have gone first”

As you can imagine, I could go on and on, from one thread to another, and still not be any closer to starting my review, so I will make a drastic decision, and urge you to let Tristram speak for himself instead - there is no one like him to speak anyway.

Please read his digressions!

They are much more amusing than I can adequately show you. I strongly recommend the audio version, as it forced me to sit still and not digress from the text in the way I might have otherwise, had I had the slightest chance. I recommend having a copy of the book next to you as well, as some pages are more interesting in a visual than in an auditive, not to mention narrative, way.

To keep seated, I employed my hands with yarn as well, spinning my own threads into a warm poncho which will come in very handy when the teaching season starts again, - as will my time with Tristram, for I can’t imagine any lecture that could possibly prepare you better for the digressions of students than the life and opinions of Tristram Shandy!

A superb experiment of a novel, and a unique voice in world literature!

As for my review, I accidentally ripped it out of my Goodreads account and replaced it with this text instead. Sometimes things like that happen, and the original review is in the literary ether together with the missing chapter in Tristram Shandy. To tell the story of all those alternative texts, we would need the help of Borges and his Labyrinths. But that is another story - or two, or three...
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews31 followers
December 28, 2021
(Book 963 from 1001 books) - The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman = Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne

Tristram Shandy is a novel by Laurence Sterne. It was published in nine volumes, the first two appearing in 1759, and seven others following over the next seven years (vols. 3 and 4, 1761; vols. 5 and 6, 1762; vols. 7 and 8, 1765; vol. 9, 1767).

As its title suggests, the book is ostensibly Tristram's narration of his life story. But it is one of the central jokes of the novel that he cannot explain anything simply, that he must make explanatory diversions to add context and color to his tale, to the extent that Tristram's own birth is not even reached until Volume III. ...

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و پنجم ماه سپتامبر سال2000میلادی

عنوان: زندگانی و عقاید آقای تریسترام شندی؛ نویسنده: لارنس استرن؛ مترجم: ابراهیم یونسی؛ انتشارات نسل قلم، سال1378، در دو جلد؛ چاپ دیگر سال1388؛ در674ص؛ شابک9789643515515؛ چاپ پنجم سال1399؛ عنوان روی جلد: تریسترام شندی؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایرلندی تبار بریتانیا - سده18م

رمانی‌ است نوشته ی «لارنس استرن»، در نه جلد (نسخه اصلی)؛ دو جلد نخست از رمان، در سال1759میلادی منتشر شد، و جلدهای بعدی طی هفت سال پی آیند، به چاپ رسیدند؛ کتاب «داستان زندگی و عقاید» نجیب‌زاده‌ ای، به نام «تریسترام شندی» است؛ نویسنده برای نوشتن این رمان، شیوه‌ ای را به کار می‌گیرند، که ادامه ی سنت «فرانسوا رابله»، در داستان‌گویی‌ است؛ داستان «تریسترام شندی»، پر است از، اظهار نظرها، و عقاید راوی، که به شکلی نامنظم، و پراکنده، به خوانشگر ارائه می‌شوند، و نویسنده، با کلک‌بازی‌های فراوان، بازگویی اصل داستان را، مرتب به تأخیر می‌اندازد؛ این شیوه، بعدها در آثار «جیمز جویس»، نویسنده ی «ایرلندی»، و «دیوید فاستر والاس»، نویسنده ی رمان و داستان‌های کوتاه «آمریکایی»، نیز، ادامه یافته است؛ «زندگی و عقاید آقای تریسترام شندی» را، جناب آقای «ابراهیم یونسی»، به فارسی ترجمه کرده، و انتشارت نسل قلم، در سال1378هجری خورشیدی، آن را در دو جلد منتشر کرده‌ است

نقل از نمونه متن: (ای کاش پدر یا مادرم، یا در واقع هردو …؛ چون هردو موظف به این کار بودند …؛ وقتی مرا به وجود میآوردند، میدانستند چه میکنند، اگر چنانکه باید، به این امر توجه میکردند، و میدیدند، که چه چیزها، به این کارشان بستگی دارد، و نه تنها پای به وجود آوردن یک موجود معقول، در میان است، بلکه، مسئله ی تشکیل، و تشکل مناسب حرارت بدن این موجود، و احتمالاً نبوغ، و ساختمان مغز او هم، مطرح است، و حتی ممکن است، سرنوشت همه ی خاندان این موجود، از اخلاط، و امیالی تاثیر پذیرد، که آن هنگام غلبه داشتند ...؛ اگر به واسطه ی آن دو اسب سركش، و آن راننده ی دیوانه نبود، که ما را، از «استیلتن» به «استامفورد» برد، این فکر هرگز به ذهنم راه نمییافت؛ مثل برق میرفت، یک سراشیب سه میل و نیمی بود، که طی آن، به زحمت اگر پایمان با زمین تماس مییافت، …؛ بس که آهنگ حرکتمان سریع بود ...؛ خلاصه، فکری به مغزم آمد، و قلب هم در آن مشاركت كرد)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 09/11/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 06/10/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
792 reviews
July 11, 2023
Before I began this book----

Wait a moment, don’t climb on your hobby-horse, or rather, don’t pounce on your keyboard to tell me that I didn’t begin this book, that it was Laurence Sterne who began this book more than two hundred and fifty years ago, long before I was even a * in my mothers’s eye or an answering * in my father’s----

So, before I began reading this book, like many amongst you, I had preconceived ideas about what----

Yes, it is worth paying attention to the wording here because the Life and some of the Opinions of Tristram Shandy relate to a time even before the moment of his own ✹----

But the Life and Opinions is still a good title, and the Opinions themselves, dating as they do from the 1760s, must have been preserved in the finest liquor to have retained such a freshness of spirit that you would think they had taken their first breath of Life a mere five minutes before----

Did I mention Time?

So yes, before I began reading Sterne, I had a sort of bias against this innocent book----

No, not innocent as to what happens between its covers, no, for it treats of everything in the world and doesn’t mince its words in the telling, doesn’t strut about like a turkey cock but rather talks turkey, as in gets straight to the----

But to go back to where I began, that period of time before I picked up Shandy and conceived the fancy----

No, not that kind of fancy. Why is it that we humans are ever occupied by conceptions of a double-meaning nature, as if words were not already weighty enough without adding----

Although generally, at least today, few of us seem capable of constructing sentences fortified with the kind of ravelins or outworks favoured by Tristram’s uncle Toby and his trusty henchman Trim. For you must accept, if you are to read Sterne that the work is a very well fortified construction, that every sentence contains at least two facets or aspects, and each aspect faces off at an angle as in goes in a different direction and therefore the time taken to read----

Did I mention Time, because the notion, the very conception of Time is very central to any coherent understanding of the relationship between the writing of this book and the reading of it----

And speaking of the reading, we mustn't underestimate the importance of the Opinions of the reader; although not mentioned in the title, the Opinions of the reader are nevertheless----

The narrative, such as is, is interrupted by frequent digressions directed at the reader and when these asides are aimed in particular at the female reader, well----

Broadsides are not out of place to mention, in fact the terminology of the battlefield is used for even the most peaceful-sounding conversations, not to speak of matters amatory----

And although seemingly random, the trajectory of the narrative is very precisely plotted between order and chaos, between sense and nonsense, between mysteries and riddles, between the spiritual and the natural, between abstract philosophy and practical wisdom, between noses and----

Since the writer, together with his appendages, is always present in his own writing, just as every man is present at the shaving of his own beard, Laurence Sterne may also be----

We can’t but speculate that the subacid personality Sterne gives Tristram’s father, a man who is pedantically obtuse and razor-sharp at the same time, and the ridiculously cautious diplomacy he allows Tristram’s mother (though it is a clever and perfectly impenetrable protection against the father’s razor wit, and blunts it nicely from time to time), plus the childlike humanity with which he endows Tristram's uncle Toby----

However, it is the character of the parson Yorick, who, like his namesake in Hamlet, that fellow of such ‘infinite jest’, has a great appreciation of nonsense which he allies with a paradoxical impatience of folly and verbosity, and the whole may give us the truest picture of Laurence----

I’m reminded of Joyce’s 'Man in the Macintosh', the ghost-like figure who flits in and out of Ulysses, and aren’t there many such elusive raincoated men in Beckett too----

So yes, I think Sterne may well have inserted himself into his own novel via Yorick, his Jester of a parson----

But for this speculation, I have no proof, at least ready, so I will_that point unless some hypercritick reader of this review wants to ↵ to it----

The last word I will allow to Sterne:
Therefore, my dear friend and companion (reader), if you should think me somewhat sparing of my narrative on my first setting out,---bear with me,----and let me go on, and tell my story my own way:---or if I should seem now and then to trifle upon the road,--or should sometimes put on a fool’s cap with a bell to it, for a moment or two as we pass along,--don’t fly off,--but rather courteously give me credit for a little more wisdom than appears upon my outside;-----and as we jog on, either laugh with me, or at me, or in short, do any thing,-----only keep your temper. 
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,466 reviews3,622 followers
December 28, 2017
So many great discoveries were made absolutely unintentionally…
Christopher Columbus was sailing to India and unexpectedly discovered America without any slightest suspicions.
Laurence Sterne was writing some obscure petty biography and unawares discovered postmodernism.
But the most weird and paradoxical thing about it is that he discovered postmodernism long before the modernists managed to discover modernism.
It had ever been the custom of the family, and by length of time was almost become a matter of common right, that the eldest son of it should have free ingress, egress, and regress into foreign parts before marriage, – not only for the sake of bettering his own private parts, by the benefit of exercise and change of so much air – but simply for the mere delectation of his fancy, by the feather put into his cap, of having been abroad.

And at that he was a clergyman. Strange are your deeds, Oh Lord.
But the most important thing is that God dictated to Laurence Sterne a universal postmodern rule: ‘never piss out of your window’.
Profile Image for Henry Avila.
468 reviews3,255 followers
June 3, 2023
When a very popular book from a different, distant era fades from view we wonder why? Published in nine installments in 1767 that would have continued except for the untimely author Laurence Sterne's demise...The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. An outrageous satire full of coarse double entente, sexual innuendo, by strangely a Church of England clergyman who was one of the founders of the British novel you can imagine the reactions.The center of the narrative is Walter Shandy and his brother Toby and their discussions about books, war , politics , or anything. Much of the story is the waiting for the main character the son to appear, Tristram, be born. The poor, nervous, concerned mother Elizabeth prefers the midwife than Doctor Slop a short man with a reputation for being a quack, bringing forceps does not give confidence. Walter the father reads plenty, an obviously wealthy landowner has the time, Toby a former wounded captain in the army slowly recovers in Walter's residence. He always tells war stories of his experiences to Walter, and Trim a friend , servant and corporal in the same military unit , they live again through the many sieges of enemy cities. The complicated plans fill the veterans Toby and Trim with joy and give them a reason to exist. And the bachelors finally discover women . Uncle Toby courting a widow Mrs. Wadman , Trim her loyal maid Bridget...
are rather amusing, giving modern audiences a glimpse into the past. Tame by today's standards if there are any, however it will please most people, the seekers of buried treasure, I was. Classics show us how the human race evolves but never quite changes , the good and the bad will be.
Profile Image for Renato.
36 reviews142 followers
January 28, 2016
I failed big time in reviewing this.
Oh well.
I tried mentioning Sterne's style and his humor. I tried to include some of my favorite quotes and even show one of the cool drawings included. And I tried stating how much I loved it.
However, when I finished and read it, it didn't do the book any justice at all.
So all that's left for me to do is tell you to go read it.

Rating: 5 stars

This is one of those books we encounter in life that, despite being completely enchanted and raptured chapter after chapter, yet we wonder whether it's even possible to properly communicate these feelings to your fellow book addicts using only words. You, who is now reading this tentative review and who, unfortunately, have not yet heard much about The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, might about now be thinking that this is a profound, piercing read, that by making use of deep and emotional passages amazes us with its insights on life. If that's what you looking for in a book, you won't get it here. This is comedy!

Heavily influenced by Don Quixote and Cervantes and his humor, lightness and stand-alone stories, Laurence Sterne was still able to be original and create a masterpiece of his own, taking the humor he found in the stories of the knight-errant and his squire to a whole new level, gracefully and, I must say, obscenely–although he was careful enough to thinly disguise it all in metaphors and many ******–not that it avoided him any criticism. While so influenced by another work, Tristram Shandy is still highly original and consequently inspired itself many writers with his style. Some believe Sterne to have been the forerunner of many narrative devices used by authors such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Speaking of great writers, I should add that Leo Tolstoy named Sterne his favorite author.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman was released in nine volumes throughout seven years (Vols. 1 & 2 in 1759; Vols. 3 & 4 in 1761; Vols. 5 & 6 in 1762; Vols. 7 & 8 in 1765; and finally, Vol. 9 in 1767). Luckily for us it is now just one volume divided by its chapters and subchapters. The book, as its title suggests, aims to tell the story of Tristram Shandy–he is writing his own biography. Our Tristram, however, can't tell a story from beginning to end even if it meant to save his life. He feels he has to go back in order to give us plenty of details and his own birth only happens in Vol. 3. From that you can get an idea of what you're getting yourself into!

"What these perplexities of my uncle Toby were,——’tis impossible for you to guess;—if you could,—I should blush; not as a relation,—not as a man,—nor even as a woman,—but I should blush as an author; inasmuch as I set no small store by myself upon this very account, that my reader has never yet been able to guess at anything. And in this, Sir, I am of so nice and singular a humour, that if I thought you was able to form the least judgment or probable conjecture to yourself, of what was to come in the next page,—I would tear it out of my book.."

Sterne himself, in the quote above, summarized perfectly what one should expect to find in his book–or how one shouldn't expect anything as it's very unlikely that his inventive mind would be matched. Mightily original in the events depicted on the book, he takes it even further with many different design features and digressions. In the drawing below (by the writer himself), he explains his narrative course in the first four volumes, swearing by us that the fifth would be finer - but would you take his word for it?

"Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;——they are the life, the soul of reading!—take them out of this book, for instance,—you might as well take the book along with them;—one cold eternal winter would reign in every page of it; restore them to the writer;—he steps forth like a bridegroom,—bids All-hail; brings in variety, and forbids the appetite to fail."

Speaking of digressions, while it might be extremely irritating for many who hoped for chronological progress and a steady narrative, to my taste, it was the highlight of this experience. Not only because it was a lot of fun, but also because it felt close to home as it seemed like the way my grandmother tells her stories: even the simplest event as "I didn't sleep well at all last night" comes with the physical description of her neighboor who also has trouble sleeping who has a brother that's a pharmacist (insert his background life story here) and his third degree relations with our family and how tonight she'll finally sleep as she'll not forget to take her pills–which was the reason of her insomnia.

By digressing so much, Tristram is merely following his train of thought, without making any effort to order those ideas for his reader's convenience. Isn't that a simpler version of the stream of consciouness technique so hailed in the next centuries? While the former device follows wherever the narrator mind takes him, but still describing the events in a logical order, the latter strips more layers and simply exposes the very thought in a loose manner.

"You must have a little patience. I have undertaken, you see, to write not only my life, but my opinions also (...) if you should think me somewhat sparing of my narrative on my first setting out—bear with me,—and let me go on, and tell my story my own way:—Or, if I should seem now and then to trifle upon the road,—or should sometimes put on a fool’s cap with a bell to it, for a moment or two as we pass along,—don’t fly off,—but rather courteously 9 give me credit for a little more wisdom than appears upon my outside;—and as we jog on, either laugh with me, or at me, or in short, do anything,—only keep your temper."

So, I urge you: do have patience with him. He's worth it!

Film adaptation: well, what do you know? While I was reading the book I lamented that it was impossible to be filmed. Turns out it wasn't. A Cock and a Bull Story is a film-within-a-film released in 2005 by bold director Michael Winterbottom that tells the story of two actors (Steve Coogan and Rob Byrdon, playing themselves) who are shooting an adaptation of Sterne’s novel, but the film (Tristram) fails terribly–just as the book is about a man attempting to write his autobiography but never really succeeding while at it for he can’t properly tell his story without being distracted, the film is about an attempt at making a film. Winterbottom was happy in the majority of his choices and unlike many film adaptations I’ve watched, this one actually works.

Review: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is one of those books I had heard about but never planned to actually read any time soon. Luckily, I was tempted by a group read and found a copy of a rare Portuguese translation (it's been out of print in Brazil for years) at the last minute. It's now absolutely one of my favorites: 5 very assymetric stars.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,217 reviews9,898 followers
July 12, 2016

I would like to dedicate the following old review to a much missed GR friend, Bird Brian, who appears as a character in my review. He provided us with many hours of free entertainment with his great rants against every possible aspect of capitalism and the American government. But 50% of him left when Amazon bought GR, and the rest of him disappeared when the censorship controversy splurged all over our heads. And now he is not here to excoriate all the bad people and discover all the conspiracies.


NICHOLAS PARSONS: Welcome to "Just A Minute!"


NP: Thank you, thank you, hello, my name is Nicholas Parsons. And as the Minute Waltz fades away once more it is my pleasure to welcome our many listeners, not only in this country but throughout the world. But also to welcome to the show this week four highly talented and individual players of this game. And once again they're going to show their invention, their verbal dexterity and their creative ingenuity as they speak on a subject that I give them for one minute, and they try and do that without hesitation, repetition or deviation. And this week our four contestants are Manny Rayner, Bird Brian, Paul Bryant and Ian Graye. Please welcome all four of them! (Applause). And we start this week with Manny Rayner – Manny, the subject is Tristram Shandy. Tell us something about that Manny, without hesitation, repetition or deviation starting now.

MANNY : This is a novel written between 1759 and 1765 –


NP : And Bird Brian has challenged. What is your challenge?

BB : Repetition of “seventeen”.

MR : But that’s part of the designation of the year… 1953, 1954…

NP : A harsh challenge but I’m going to have to agree with Brian – so BB you have a point and you have the subject of Tristram Shandy and there are 56 seconds left.

BB : Ironically, given that Tristram Shandy is the epitome of deviation and digression, we here are supposed to discuss it without ourselves digressing – if I remember rightly it has been filmed as A Cock and Bull Story which was directed by Michael Winterbottom who also did Welcome to Sarajevo –


NP : And Paul Bryant has challenged.

PB : Well, it was all getting so terribly dull I thought I’d press this buzzer just to wake us up again.

NP : But what is your challenge? Dullness is allowed in this panel game.

PB : Well… he deviated by going on about Sarajevo. I could see he was just trying to drag politics into it again.

NP : Well no, he only mentioned one other film, I don’t think that was really deviating from the subject. So Brian you have a point for an incorrect challenge and you continue with Tristram Shandy with 22 seconds left.

BB : Er –


Ian Graye : Hesitation.

NP : Oh definitely. You have to keep going in this game, loquacity is the thing. So Ian you have 21 seconds left with Tristram Shandy.

IG : This has got to be one of the most brilliant, funniest and –


NP : Er – who challenged there? Manny?

MR : Deviation. I can’t understand his accent.

NP: What?

MR : He could be talking about anything , how would we know.

NP : Well, er, he does have an Australian accent, of course, but I thought he was perfectly comprehensible… let’s ask the audience. Audience – can you understand Ian Graye?

Audience : Mooo!

PB : It’s hopeless asking that lot, they’re just a lot of sheep.

Audience : Moo! Mooo!

NP : So Ian that was a wrong challenge, you have a point and the subject is back with you, 19 seconds left for Tristram Shandy.

Ian : Here is a novel that parodies many of the cliches of later novelists before they became –


PB : Repetition.

NP : Repetition?

PB : Yes, repetition of “novel”.

Ian : No, I said “novel” and novelist” – two different words, like “wood” and “tree”, or is your dictionary different to mine?

NP : Yes, he did you know.

BB : Quite so.

NP : So, another point for another wrong challenge and you have the subject back, Ian, 13 seconds starting now.

IG : When I was –


MR : Deviation – he’s talking about himself now, not Tristram Shandy.

NP : A very clever challenge! So you get a point for that and the subject back with you, 11 seconds for Tristram Shandy.

MR : The full title is The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which gives Lawrence Sterne ample leeway to throw a in lot of rabbiting about anything. I haven’t actually read this book –


NP : And Paul Bryant has challenged.

PB : Deviation – if he hasn’t read it he can’t say anything about it and ought to leave it to those of us who have.

NP : Well that’s er frankly ridiculous, I haven’t climbed Mount Everest but I can talk about it, I know facts about Mount Everest.

PB : Now you’re deviating. What’s Mount Everest got to do with it?

NP : But I’m the chairman, I’m allowed to repeat and hesitate and deviate. I relish my deviant status.

PB : You’re in cahoots with him! – Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it infamy!

NP : Be that as it may, the subject is back with Manny and there are only three seconds left starting now.

Manny : I fully intend to read this wonderful volume at the earliest –


NP : And the sound of the whistle beautifully blown by our producer Samantha indicates the end of that – strenuous – round. Manny gets a point for speaking as the whistle went, and I can now reveal that the situation is that he is our joint leader with Ian, Bird Brian is next, and Paul Bryant yet to score. So we begin Round Two and the subject is Why I Am So Grumpy and Paul, you can begin with that, starting now.

Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,729 followers
July 26, 2021
“Shall we for ever make new books, as apothecaries make new mixtures, by pouring only out of one vessel into another?”
― Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman


or, a repartee on jeopardy.

If on a friend’s bookshelf
You cannot find Joyce or Sterne
Cervantes, Rabelais, or Burton,

You are in danger, face the fact,
So kick him first or punch him hard
And from him hide behind a curtain.

― Alexander Theroux*


I was (of course) destined to love this book. Just look at my love for/on Montaigne, Cervantes & Burton. J'adore big books full of absurdity and digressions and allusions. This is the ... THE ... grand-pappa of the modern novel; the paterfamilis of all things Shandy.

Looking into the black night after emerging with a book from my mother's womb, I dreamt of THIS book among the stars. Sterne's Tristam existed for me before I read it. It was like a song whose tune you hum in your head for years, before identifying the tune with an actual song. Tristram Shandy was playing in the background as I read Joyce, Nabokov, Kerouac, Vonnegut, Murakami, Pynchon, DFW, Rushdie, Woolf, etc. Hell, even Karl Marx loved this book.

But now, I find myself debating on whether I will be content with my Modern Library (Fokenflik intro and notes) version or if I need to go buy the Visual Editions** or the Florida Edition***.

IF this seems like an odd obsession after reading/finishing Tristram Shandy, perhaps you haven't read it. It just isn't one of those books you really escape from. I keep digressing back into the novel because you keep recognizing the novel in other novels and movies and people. I look at Mandelbrot sets and think THIS is Tristram Shandy with its digressions, repetitions, and spawn. I look at the endnotes of DFW and think, this IS a Shandian experiment. I look at Vonnegut's picture of an * asshole (pg 81) in BreakFast of Champions and think: this is a Shandian experiment.

Sterne was postModern before postModern was cool. Reading Tristram Shandy is like discovering that someone in the 18th century had already built a working computer, but that all it did was spit out a long sequence of digressions. Anyway, my wife informed me that she loved just watching me read (so this is now a voyeur review) Sterne because I would spit, giggle, choke, and squirm every page. I would wiggle and twist as Sterne would allude to the classics and twist the logic and satirize everyone from Robert Burton to Jonathan Swift to William Warburton. I can't say this novel isn't appreciated. Those who have read it get it, but it isn't appreciated enough. I imagine it will be like discovering Frank Zappa in 200 years. A future me will be looking at old YouTube videos and will think GOD why didn't more people appreciate him?

* props to Nathan N.R. Gaddis for uncovering/exposing this poem.
** I did get it. I occasionally pull it off the shelf and pet it, and cry, since Visual Editions is no longer a thing, but this book exists and I possess it.
*** I also bought the entire University of Florida Sterne output. Which, if my math serves me, is 9 volumes.
Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,372 followers
November 13, 2013
The Shandian Spawn

“If on a friend’s bookshelf
You cannot find Joyce or Sterne
Cervantes, Rabelais, or Burton,

“[Gaddis or Gass, Pynchon or McElroy,
David Foster Wallace, William T Vollmann,
Alexander Theroux or Gilbert Sorrentino,]

“You are in danger, face the fact,
So kick him first or punch him hard
And from him hide behind a curtain.”
― Alexander Theroux [Ergänzung von "N.R."]

Do I really have to say that again?

But, so, let’s look at what Steven Moore claims to be the stream of spawn flowing forth from the narrative wealth of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

We begin at the very beginning, which is just after Sterne himself (this is not the proper way to begin ; one should begin at conception, back in Greece, Rome, China, India, Japan, etc, but that is what Moore’s Volume the First and much of Volume the Second were for) :: Voltaire’s Potpourri (1765), The Man with Forty Crowns (1768), and Lord Chesterfield’s Ears (1775) ; Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist and His Master ; Xavier de Maistre’s Voyage around My Room ; some novels from the German likes of Wieland, Nicolai, Hippel, Wezel, Richter ; and the American novelist High Henry Brackenridge.

So much for the 18th century. Lets’ continue into the 19th and 20th centuries using more or less Mr Moore’s words, because it is Mr Moore’s list and I am only reproducing it here because MORE PEOPLE NEED TO READ MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS KIND OF BOOK! You know, this kind of book tends to get BURIED. -- Also, one should read ALL of both of Moore’s novel-books because there are even MORE books found there that you’ve never heard of and with which you may find yourself IN LOVE.

BEGIN QUOTATION OF STEVEN MOORE (notice the quotation marks) ::

“Beginning in the 19th century, the trickle turned into a stream: the Shandy family genes can be detected in Charles Lucas’s Infernal Quixote (1801), Nicolai Wergeland’s Petty Incidents in the Life of Haldor Smek (1805-10), Washington Irving’s History of New York (1809), Ferenc Verseghy’s Merry Life and Ridiculous Opinions of Gergely Kolomposi Szarvas (1814-15), Thomas Love Peacock’s Headlong Hall (1815), Lord Byron’s verse-novel Don Juan (1818-23), which he called ‘a poetical T Shandy,’ E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr (1820-22), several of American John Neal’s novels (Randolph, Errata, Authorship), Yakov de Sanglen’s Life and Opinions of a New Tristram (1825), Charles Nodier’s Story of the King of Bohemia and His Seven Castles (1830), 19-year-old Karl Marx’s Scorpion and Felix (1837, unfortunately incomplete), Robert Southey’s Doctor (1834-47), Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus (1836), Nicolai Gogol’s ‘Nose’ (1836; Pushkin called Gogol ‘the Russian Sterne’), Søren Kierkegaard’s Either-Or/Stages on Life’s Way diptych (1843-45), Almedia Garrett’s Travels in My Homeland (1846), Herman Melville’s Mardi (1849) and Moby-Dick (1851), Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865, 1871), Ippolito Nievo’s Castle of Fratta (1867), and earlier novels; Júlio Dinis’s English Family (1868), Carlo Dossi’s Life of Alberto Pisani (1870), Gustave Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet (1881), and in Joaquim Machado de Assis’s later novels. By the end of the century, Sterne’s spawn could be found throughout continental Europe, Scandinavia, and Russia.”

[I’m still quoting Moore (notice the quotation marks) ; but here I’m gonna reformat into a columnar list, for read-abble’s-sake, since I can’t reproduce the typesetting on Moore’s page which is intended to intimate the shape of an ever-widening river.]

“In the 20th century, the stream widened into a river, beginning with
Natsume Soseki’s I Am a Cat, and including
Miguel de Unamuno’s Mist,
Andrei Bely’s Petersburg,
James Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegans Wake (he cited Sterne when describing the latter),
Vikto Shklovsky’s Sentimental Journey,
Italo Svevo’s Confessions of Zeno,
Andre Gide’s Counterfeiters,
Luigi Pirandello’s One, No One, and One Hundred Thousand,
Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz,
Stanislaw Witkiewicz’s Insatiability,
Miklós Szentkuthy’s Prae,
John Dos Passos’s USA,
Juan Filly’s Op Oloop and Faction,
Philip Wylie’s Finnley Wren and Opus 21,
Witold Gombrowicz’s Ferdydurke,
Vladimir Nabokov’s Real Life of Sebastian Knight,
Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds,
Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita,
Macedonio Fernandez’s Museum of Eterna’s Novel,
Kenneth Patchen’s Journal of Albion Moonlight,
Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus,
Felipe Alfau’s Chromos,
Louis Paul Boon’s Summer in Termuren,
Günter Grass’s Tin Drum and Flounder,
Jack Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight (‘And Tristram Shraundy Shern, marvelous book’),
Julio Cortázar’s Hopscotch,
Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s Three Trapped Tigers,
Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America,
William H. Gass’s Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife and The Tunnel,
Steve Katz’s Exagggerations of Peter Prince,
Venedikt Erofeev’s Moscow to the End of the Line,
Ronald sukenick’s Up,
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five,
Donald Harington’s Some Other Place. The Right Place.,
Chandler Brossard’s A Chimney Sweep Comes Clean,
Severo Sarduy’s Cobra,
Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow,
Augusto Roa Bastos’s I the Supreme,
José Lezama Lima’s Paradiso,
Raymond Federman’s Take It or Leave It,
Juan Goytisolo’s Juan the Landless,
Fernando del Paso’s Palinuro of Mexico,
Arno Schmidt’s Evening Edged in Gold,
Portuguese collaborators Manuel da Silva Ramos and Alface’s experimental novels,
David Markson’s Springer’s Progress,
Georges Perec’s Life a User’s Manual,
Ignácio de Loyola Brandão’s Zero,
Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler,
Alfredo Bryce Echenique’s A World for Julius,
Gilbert Sorrentino’s Mulligan Stew,
Alexander Theroux’s Darconville’s Cat,
D. Keith Mano’s Take Five,
Salman Rushdies’ Midnight’s Children,
Genichiro Takahashi’s Sayonora, Gangsters,
Julián Ríos’s Larva,
Aladair Gray’s 1982, Janine and Old Men in Love
Aldo Busi’s Standard Life of an Ordinary Pantyhose Salesman,
George Garrett’s Poison Pen,
Carlos Fuentes’s Christopher Unborn,
Jacques Roubaud’s Great Fire of London,
Fernando Arrabal’s Extravagant Crusade of a Castrated Man in Love,
Thomas McGonigle’s Going to Patchogue,
David Foster Wallace’s novels
and some of William T. Vollmann’s,
Héctor Abad Faciolince’s Joy of Being Awake,
Javier Marías Dark Back of Time (written after he had translated Tristram Shandy into Spanish),
Haruki Murakami’s Wind-up Bird Chronicle,
Matthew Remski’s Silver,
Walter Moer’s 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear,
Joseph Heller’s Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man,
several of Percival Everett’s novels,
Daniel Sada’s Porque parece mentira la verdad nunca se sabe,
Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves,
Robert Juan-Cantavella’s Otro,
Per Højholt’s Aruicula,
Robert Coover’s Lucky Pierre,
Steve Tomasula’s VAS,
Enrique Vila-Matas’s Montano’s Malady,
Jasper Fforde’s ffictions
Gordon Sheppard’s Ha!,
Paul Anderson’s Hunger’s Brides,
Adam Thirwell’s Politics,
Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen,
James McCourt’s Now Voyagers,
Joshua Cohen’s Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto,
Evan Dara’s Easy Chain,
Lee Henerson’s Man Game,
Benjamin Zucker’s talmudic trilogy,
Matthew Roberson’s Impotent,
John McGreal’s Book of It,
Lawrence Sutin’s When to Go into the Water,
Adam Levin’s Instructions,
Arthur Phillip’s Tragedy of Arthur,
Sergio De La Pava’s Personae,
Tom Carson’s Daisy Buchanan’s Daughter,
Jan Brandt’s Gegen die Welt,
Mark Leyner’s Sugar Frosted Nutsack,
Will Self’s Umbrella,
Chris Eaton’s Chris Eaton --”
[continues Moore] “-- I’ll stop there, for as Calvino wrote in 1981, Tristram Shandy is the ‘undoubted progenitor of all avant-garde novels of our century.’”

Moore goes on to make a “three degrees of separation or fewer to Laurence Sterne” kind of a claim ; by way of such renown’d fictioneers as “Balzac, Dickens, Tolstoy, Eliot, and Twain.”

BUT :: you’ll notice what is not on this list ; same thing that’s not on many such lists ; in fact, it is missing the same thing which is missing on most of my lists -- female authors. Let’s listen in on Moore’s footnote about his anomoly ::

[I begin quoting Moore again ; notice the quotation marks] “That list, you’ve probably noticed, is a total sausage fest; the daughters of Tristram Shandy might include Djuna Barnes’s Ryder,
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando,
Brigid Brophy’s In Transit,
Julieta Campos’s Fear of Losing Eurydice,
Gabrielle Burton’s Heartbreak Hotel,
Jaimy Gordon’s Shamp of the City-Solo,
Janice Galloway’s Trick Is to Keep Breathing (‘This book resembles Tristram Shandy as rewritten by Sylvia Plath’ --NYTBR),
Sarah Schulman’s Empathy,
Jeanette Winterson’s Gut Symmetries,
Helen DeWitt’s Last Samurai,
Heather Woodbury’s What Ever,
Cintra Wilson’s Colors Insulting to Nature,
Vanessa Place’s La Medusa,
Nicola Barker’s Darkmans,
Emilie Autumn’s Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls,
Carol Hart’s History of the Novel in Ants,
Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?,
certain novels by Kathy Acker,
Christine Brooke-Rose,
Rikki Ducornet,
Thalia Field,
Xiaolu Guo,
Carole Maso,
Ali Smith, and
Aritha Van Herk,
and some formally innovative YA novels by the likes of
Susie Day,
E. Lockhart, and
Lauren Myracle. But Sterne’s cocktail of comic erudition, slap-and-tickle sexuality, bittersweet sentimentalism, and achronological form doesn’t seem to attract many women writers -- or women readers, according to Professor Elizabeth Terries. She says in her career she’s taught Tristram Shandy to nearly 500 female students, and estimates ‘not more than twenty enjoyed reading Sterne’s work or will ever return to it.’”


The foregoing list -- which belongs to Mr Steven Moore and was originally published in his The Novel: An Alternative History, 1600-1800 -- shall, in the near future, be incarnated yet again in the form of a Listopia list, curtesy of Friend Aubrey. I’ll link to it from here at that time.

For a similar kind of Wonder=List (and much duplication), I’ve got a Rabelaisian list over there in my Rabelais Review. You won’t have difficulty finding it. It’s fantastic!
Profile Image for Mark André .
117 reviews249 followers
December 1, 2022
'It is not things themselves, but opinions concerning things, which disturb men'.

(From the title page of Tristram Shandy written in ancient Greek and translated by the author in his Notes. The motto is by Epictetus.)
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
874 reviews2,265 followers
July 3, 2015

This was a re-read of a novel that I first read when I was about 14 and that has stayed fresh in my mind ever since.

It was recommended to me by my cricket coach and favourite teacher, John Carr, who taught me English for five years and cemented my passion for Literature in the early 70’s. His Master’s Thesis was on Evelyn Waugh’s "Sword of Honour” Trilogy (which I’ve also read and plan to re-read).

I was amused to learn from Steven Moore that one John Carr rushed out a fake version of volume 3 of "Tristram Shandy” four months before Laurence Sterne had published his own version. Long live homage and fan fiction!

This review is dedicated to both John Carr’s, one a teacher and the other a shit stirrer!

"Let Me Go On, and Tell My Story My Own Way”

The version of the novel that I read was 528 pages long. Don’t be afraid of the perceived length. The chapters are short and easy to read, plus it’s a lot of fun, once you get into the rhythm of the writing. Like a slippery slide, the hardest part is getting on; the rest is all downhill.

If you read anything about "Tristram Shandy”, you’ll discover it is full of digressions. This is only partly true. The assessment assumes that there is a path from which the author departs. It’s probably more accurate to say that he never embarks on a set path in the first place.

If a line can be said to be the shortest distance between two points, Sterne never really sets out to get from A to B, or to do it efficiently or quickly. He simply sits down to tell his story his way, as if we readers were sitting across from him at a pub or smoking our pipes in front of a fireplace. He’s in no hurry, but equally importantly neither are we. He simply asks that we let him get on and tell his story his own way.

Left to his own devices, he is individualistic and unconventional, and so is his novel.

In Which the Author Turns a Story Into a Plot

Steven Moore differentiates between a story and a plot:

"The story consists of the events in a novel as they would occur in chronological order; the plot refers to the novelist’s particular arrangements of those events.”

While Moore identifies the three key elements of the story, I don’t think they’re particularly important. What is most appealing is the methodology Sterne uses to convert them into a plot. For me, the most interesting aspects of the novel are the self-referential discussions of the writing of the novel and the relationship between author, work and reader.

These aspects are pure metafiction, and you could argue that no author has bettered them, before or after.

The Beauty of the Line (or the Line of Beauty)

The prevailing view of a narrative in a traditional realistic novel is linear. In the interests of efficiency and speed (i.e., distance travelled divided by time), the plot can be described in terms of a straight line.

A straight line has a mathematical and a scientific significance. However, it also has a moral, creative and social significance.

A straight line does not deviate to the left or the right. If we don’t deviate, we stay on the straight and narrow. Christians say it is the right path or the path of the righteous. Cicero describes it as "an emblem of moral rectitude”.

If the line is vertical, it is upright or virtuous. If something falls from its top to its bottom, it experiences a divine gravitational force. By extension, the righteous feel gravitas.

Etymologically, all of these words are related: straight, direct, erect, right, upright, rectitude, righteous. The physical qualities morph into the moral and from there (via recht) into the legal.

Just as the right-handed ostracise the left-handed, the straight ostracise the bent, the crooked, the digressive and the divergent.

It’s this that Sterne rebels against.

He never sets out to follow the straight and narrow. His goal, so long as his neck remains flexible, is to follow his nose and his gaze, wherever they might lead him. And where he goes, so does his tale. It’s our pleasure and privilege to accompany him.

The Life of Beauty

Sterne takes a straight line and bends or curves it. He makes it more curvaceous, until it is closer to a line of beauty in the sense meant by Hogarth in his “Analysis of Beauty”.

To quote wiki:

"According to this theory, S-shaped curved lines signify liveliness and activity and excite the attention of the viewer as contrasted with straight lines, parallel lines, or right-angled intersecting lines, which signify stasis, death, or inanimate objects.”

Thus, Sterne’s aversion for a straight line reflects an attraction to vitality, motion and dynamism.

"Tristram Shandy” is nothing if not about vitality.

"So vary'd he, and of his tortuous train
Curl'd many a wanton wreath, in fight of Eve,
To lure her eye."


Of Riddles and Mysteries

Sterne’s objection to the straight line is also an objection to the logical processes that appear to govern our understanding of the world.

He doesn’t necessarily come across as a mystic. However, it seems that we need at least intuition to experience and enjoy the best that the world has to offer:

"We live amongst riddles and mysteries - the most obvious things, which come in our way, have dark sides, which the quickest sight cannot penetrate into, and even the clearest and most exalted understandings amongst us find ourselves puzzled and at a loss in almost every cranny of nature's works.”

Sterne objects to the plain, the joyless, the boring, that which lacks interest:

"There is nothing more pleasing to a traveller, or more terrible to travel-writers, than a large rich plain...[that presents nothing to the eye, but one unvaried picture of plenty.]”

Of Conquests and Concupiscence

While form might override content in "Tristram Shandy”, it does rear its head in the last trimester of the novel, when it becomes clear that the true concern of the characters, both male and female, is sex. They are, one and all, seeking "something perhaps more than friendship, less than love,” at least to start with.

In retrospect, much of the dialogue is just playful or flirtatious or "talking bawdy”, as was the case with Sterne’s predecessor, Rabelais. The ultimate goal, for a male, is to tempt a pretty woman "into a conversation with a pinch of snuff”:

"Why could not a man sit down in the lap of content here, and dance and sing and say his prayers and go to heaven with this nut-brown maid?”

Ironically, this was in France, which elsewhere Sterne would describe as "foutre-land”, though I confess I can’t give an accurate contemporary translation of the term.

Love and lust and amours (in which the reader longs for uncle Toby to get his oats) consist of thrusts and parries, just as much as any military battle. Fortifications and defences are broken down. Seductions follow campaigns and sieges (if you’re lucky).


Of the Love Between an Author and a Reader

So, ultimately, Sterne seems to argue, "talking of love is making it.” If so, then you might well agree, what’s the hurry?

One lover’s digression is another’s foreplay. The point is to be aligned, if not vertically, at least horizontally.

Equally, the process of writing and reading follows some of the rules of attraction and love, at least to the extent that it depends on good communication and the sharing of the creative burdens between the two participants:

"Writing, when properly managed, is but a different name for conversation…The truest respect which you can pay to the reader’s understanding, is to halve this matter amicably, and leave him something to imagine, in his turn, as well as yourself.”

Thus, when the pleasure is equally shared, it’s possible that Tristram wasn’t necessarily complaining when he moaned, “the more I write, the more I shall have to write.”

Perhaps what he really meant was that, the more I love, the more I shall have to love.

If this sounds like a "fertile fancy” or mere exaggeration, then, like Sterne:

"I beg the reader will assist me here...”


Van Morrison - "Help Me" (from the live album "It's Too Late to Stop Now")

Van Morrison - "Help Me" (Live at Montreux Jazz, 2012)

Sonny Boy Williamson - "Help Me"

Christelle Berthon - "Help Me"
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,529 reviews979 followers
February 18, 2017
Hindsight is a beaut! I should have written separate reviews for each of the original nine Shandy volumes, since I just spend about two days just trying to put some order into my multitudinous notes and now I have enough material and food for thought for at least nine reviews. This book is a glorious, licentious, philosophical mess designed right from the start in a labyrinthine manner by one of the brightest and sharpest wits of our literary pantheon. I thought, when I first noticed the glowing reviews of my friends, that they were using hyperbole when they claimed this to be one of the very first post-modernist, experimental novels, but it quickly became apparent that they were right : from Salman Rushdie to Italo Calvino or from David Foster Wallace to Louis de Bernieres, Blackadders or Monty Pythons, you can't help noticing the same rambling narrative structure, the satirical tone, the joy of absurdist humour, the pseudo-scientific rants and the bawdy, low-brow content riding side by side with moving, insightful glimpses at universal truths about human nature.

What was less obvious, and became clear only with the help of the plentiful Penguin footnotes, is how much Laurence Sterne is not an accidental genius, but very much a man of his times and a canny magpie who has little remorse in lifting the best ideas, characters and even wholesale paragraphs from the works of his contemporaries and forerunners. Rabelais is a primary source, as is Robert Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy", but there are numerous references and 'borrowings' from Swift, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Locke and the Greek or Roman classics. Sterne's achievement is not only to integrate all these disparate sources into his discourse, but to provide a critical, pertinent commentary on the salient points and on the shortcomings of each. Also worth noting is Sterne love for the English language, the playful anarchy of his pleonasms, archaism and nonce words.

Probably, had I been forced to read this in highschool, I would have hated it with a vengeance. It's dense, it has no plot (it takes three volumes for the main character to be born), you need a heavy dictionary close at hand and Sterne's phrase construction would make Faulkner envious. Some of the views embraced by Sterne are less palatable than others - attacks on atheists, mysoginy, theories linking racial profiles to climate, his disparaging of the French and of Catholics, etc. Even now, in my almost dottage, the lecture was occasionaly a chore and soporific, but the joy of making sense of a bawdy joke or a heart to heart conversation directly addressed to the readership ("may it please your worships!") more than made up for the effort put in. Had Sterne been granted a reprieve from the merciless illness that put him in an early grave and written the forty Shandy volumes he had promised us, I'm sure I would have eventually read them all. (I still wonder how Trim would have finished his tale of the King of Bohemia)

What is the book really about? It says right on the cover : the life and times of Tristram Shandy, and alter ego of the author, a man of his times born under an unlucky star (his father's 'homunculus' got distracted right after it left the starting gate) and bad luck seems to follow Tristram all through his journey through life. Another alter-ego of the author is the pastor Yorick, a transparent reference to "Hamlet"and a self-portrait of Sterne as the tragic court jester who is the only one capable of speaking truth to power. For the internet age, I have a third analogy of the author as an early incarnation of that virtual animal, the perfect troll, a thorn in the side ("obstreperated" is Sterne's choice of descriptor) of his pompous, rigid minded and pious contemporaries:


Tristram's father, mother and especially his uncle Toby with an assortment doctors, lawyers, clerics, chambermaids, valets, etc. provide the bulk of the narrative, with authorial intervention and breaking of the fourth wall providing the rest. Hobby Horses, or the miriad ways people engage in passionate and/or silly endeavours, are another common thread that meanders through the pages of all nine volumes.


Having finished my woefully short introduction and being too lazy to embark on a detailed analysis of the themes and, still pertinent today, satirical observations of the autor, I decided to let his words speak for themselves. Let's see how many of my favorite passages I can include in the space allocated by Goodreads for a proper review!

[If your worships feel like skipping the long section of quotes, here's a one line clincher : "By the trotting of my lean horse, the thing is incredible!" ]


On the subject of non-linear narration and digressions:

Could a historiographer drive on his history, as a muleteer drives on his mule, - straightforward... for instance from Rome all the way to Loretto, without ever once turning his head aside either to the right hand or to the left - he might venture to foretell you to an hour when he should get to his journey's end; ... but the thing is, morally speaking, impossible: For, if he is a man of the least spirit, he will have fifty deviations from a straight line to make with this or that party as he goes along, which he can no way avoid. He will have views and prospects to himself perpetually solliciting his eye, which he can no more help standing still to look at than he can fly; he will moreover have various
Accounts to reconcile:
Anecdotes to pick up:
Inscriptions to make out:
Stories to weave in:
Traditions to sift:
Personages to call upon:
Panygericks to post at his door:
Pasquinades at that:
... All which both the man and his mule are quite exempt from.

Speaking of mules, here's sample of Sterne's bawdy jokes:

My father had a favourite little mare, which he had consigned over to the most beautiful Arabian horse, in order to have a pad out her for his own riding: he was sanguine in all his projects; so he talked about his pad every day with as absolute a security, as if it had been reared, broke, and bridled and saddled at his door ready for mounting. By some neglect or other in Obadiah, it so fell out, that my father's expectations were answered with nothing better than a mule, and as ugly a beast of the kind as ever was produced.
My mother and my uncle Toby expected my father would be the death of Obadiah - and that there never would be an end of the disaster.
- See here! you rascal, cried my father, pointing to the mule, what have you done!
- It was not me, said Obadiah.
- How do I know that? replied my father.

To continue with the literary theory, in defence of meandering, according to Tristram Shandy:

'Tis to rebuke a vicious taste which has crept into thousands beside herself, - of reading straight forwards, more in quest of the adventures, than of the deep erudition and knowledge which a book of this cast, if read over as it should be, would infallibly impart to them --- The mind should be accustomed to make wise reflections, and draw curious conclusions as it goes along. [...] I wish it may have its effects, and that all good people, both male and female, from her example, may be taught to think as well as read.

Digressions, incontenstably, are the sun-shine --- they are the life, the soul of reading --- take them out of this book for instance, you might as well take the book along with them - one cold eternal winter would reign on every page of it; restore them to the writer ... he steps forth like a bridegroom, bids All Hail; brings in variety, and forbids the appetite to fail.

Throwing the gauntlet at his critics who complained about the lack of plot and the rambling nature of the novel, Sterne accuses them of intellectual laziness. Dare I bring James Joyce in here too, and mention Shandy as a precursor of the stream of consicence novel? Pourquoi pas:

Pray, Sir, in all the reading you have ever read, did you ever read such a book as Locke's Essay upon the Human Understanding? --- Don't anser me rashly, because many, I know, quote the book, who have not read it, and many have read it who understand it not: --- If either of these is your case, as I write to instruct, I will tell you in three words what the book is. - It is a history. --- A history! of who? what? where? when? --- Don't hurry yourself. --- It is a history-book, Sir, (which may possibly recommend it to the world) of what passes in a man's own mind; and if you will say so much of the book, and no more, believe me, you will cut no contemptible figure in a metaphysic circle.

In defense of satire and in response to those critics who say that wit and judgement in this world never go together, Sterne replies: so are farting and hiccuping , adding that:
... an illustration is no argument, - nor do I maintain the wiping of a looking-glass clean, to be a syllogism; - but you all, may it please your worships, see the better for it, - so that the main good these things do, is only to clarify the understanding, previous to the application of the argument itself, in order to free it from any little motes, or specks of opacular matter, which if left swimming therein, might hinder a conception and spoil all.

Sterne's crusade against backward thinking and fake puritanism continues by quoting la Rochefoucauld : Gravity is a mysterious carriage of the body to cover the defects of the mind. and Epictetus : We are tormented with the opinions we have of things, and not by things themselves. (alternate translation : Not practicalities trouble human beings, but dogmas concerning them )

The back and forth with the critics with regard with satirical, bawdy writing includes both defense and attack:

Certainly there is a difference between Bitterness and Saltness, that is, between the malignity and the festivity of wit, --- the one is mere quickness of apprehension, void of humanity, and is a talent of the devil; the other comes down from the Father of Spirits, so pure and abstracted from persons, that willingly it hurts no man ...

vs (in a recap of the first eight volumes),
What a wilderness has it been! and what a mercy that we have not both of us been lost, or devoured by wild beasts in it. Did you think the world itself, Sir, had contained such a number of Jack asses? --- How they view'd and review'd us as we passed over the rivulet at the bottom of that little valley! --- And when we climbed over that hill, and were just getting out of sight - good God! what a braying did they all set up together!

Before I continue, I believe Sterne's praise of Cervantes also belongs in this section on satire:
True Shandeism, think what you will against it, opens the heart and lungs, and like all those affections which partake of its nature, it forces the blood and other vital fluids of the body to run freely thro' its channels, and makes the wheel of life run long and cheerfully round.

To be honest, Sterne's taste in risque humour would raise a few eyebrows even today. Here's valet Trim receiving a massage from a Beguine in Flanders, after being injured in the knee:

I perceived, then, I was beginning to be in love ---
As she continued rub-rub-rubbing - I felt it spread from under her hand, an' please your honour, to every part of my frame ---
The more she rubb'd, and the longer strokes she took --- the more the fire kindled in my veins --- till at length, by two or three strokes longer than the rest --- my passion rose to the highest pitch --- I seiz'd her hand ---
--- And then, thou clapped'st it to thy lips, Trim, said my uncle Toby --- and madest a speech.
Whether the corporal's amour terminated precisely in the way my uncle Toby described it, is not material; it is enough that it contain'd in it the essence of all the love-romances which ever have been wrote since the beginning of the world.

Uncle Toby is an innocent, one of Sterne's favorite characters in the novel, the side of the balance that compensates for all the malign fools the author probably encountered in life. Here's a passionate defense of Toby:
Peace and comfort rest for evermore upon thy head! Thou envied'st no man's comforts, - insulted'st no man's opinions, - thou blackened'st no man's character, - devoured'st no man's bread; gently with faithful Trim behind thee, didst thou amble round the little circle of thy pleasures, jostling no creature in thy way; - for each one's service [funeral] thou had shed a tear, - for each man's need, thou hadst a shilling.

Still, innocents make great foils for the jokes of their friends:

Methinks, brother, replied my father, you might, at least, know so much as the right end of a woman from the wrong.
--- Right end, --- quoth my uncle Toby, muttering the two words low to himself, and fixing his two eyes insensibly as he muttered them, upon a small crevice, form'd by a bad joint in the chimney-piece. --- Right end of a woman! --- I declare, quoth my uncle, I know no more which it is, than the man in the moon; --- and if I was to think, continued my uncle Toby, (keeping his eye still fix'd upon the bad joint) this month together, I am sure I should not be able to find it.

Maybe widow Wadham can help Toby find his way around the gentler sex ( I was confident the following memoirs of my uncle Toby's courtship of widow Wadman, whenever I got time to write them, would turn out one of the most compleat systems, both of the elementary and practical part of love and love-making, that ever was addressed to the world. )... Sterne's issues a stern warning though:

A daughter of Eve, for such was widow Wadman, and 'tis all the character I intend to give of her - "That she was a perfect woman" - had better be fifty leagues off, or in her warm bed, or playing with a case-knife, or any thing you please - than make a man the object of her attention, when the house and all the furniture is her own.
There is nothing in it out of doors and in broad day-light, where a woman has power, physically speaking, of viewing a man in more lights than one - but here, for her soul, she can see him in no light without mixing something of her own goods and chattels along with him - till by reiterated acts of such combinations, he gets foisted into her inventory ---
- And then good night.

Sterne, for all his bawdy jokes and slightly mysoginistic comments on women, would not live in a world without love (a passage borrowed from Rabelais):

Love is certainly, at least alphabetically speaking, one of the most
Devilish affairs of life - the most
Iracundulous (here is no K to it) and
Lyrical of all human passions: at the same time, the most
Ridiculous - though by the bye the R should have gone first -
But in short 'tis of such a nature, as my father once told my uncle Toby upon the close of a long dissertation upon the subject -
"you can scarce," said he, "combine two ideas together upon it, brother Toby, without a hypallage" ...
What's that? cried my uncle Toby.
The cart before the horse, replied my father ---
--- And what has he to do there? cried my uncle Toby ---
Nothing, quoth my father, but to get in --- or let it alone.

Uncle Toby is a fine illustration of wit without malice, and Sterne's position is made clear in more than one passionate defense of temperance and forgiveness:

... being determined as long as I live and write (which in my case means the same thing) never to give the honest gentleman a worse word or a worse wish, than my uncle Toby gave the fly which buzz'd about his nose all dinner time, --- "Go, - go poor devil," quoth he, - get thee gone, - why should I hurt thee? This world is surely wide enough to hold both thee and me."

Toby is also a great illustration of the power of Hobby-Horses - in his case pyroballogy and castle sieges- which can be benign (in his case) or dangerous (in a lot of the other characters)

When a man gives himself up to the government of a ruling passion, --- or, in other words, when his Hobby Horse grows headstrong, --- farewell cool reason and fair discretion! (a borrowing from Jonathan Swift)

A man and his HOBBY-HORSE, tho' I cannot say that they act and re-act exactly after the same manner in which the soul and body do to each other: Yet doubtless there is a communication between them of some kind, and my opinion rather is, that there is something in it more of the manner of electrified bodies, and that by means of the heated parts of the rider, which come immediately into contact with the back of the HOBBY-HORSE --- by long journies and much friction, it so happens that the body of the rider is at length fill'd as full of HOBBY-HORSICAL matter as it can hold; so that if you are able to give a clear description of the nature of one, you may form a pretty exact notion of the genius and character of the other.

In other words, most people are ful of s--t, and their hobbies (power, intolerance, lying, sophism, stamp collecting or whoring) are a good pointer to their true character. But look at the beam in your own eye before you point out the straw in that of your neighbors:

De gustibus non est disputandum : Have not the wisest men in all ages - not excepting Solomon himself - have they not had their HOBBY-HORSES; their running horses, their coins and their cockle-shells, their drums and their trumpets, their fiddles, their pallets, their maggots and their butterflies? ... and so long as a man rides his HOBBY-HORSE peaceably and quietly along the King's highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him, --- pray, sir, what have either you or I to do with it?


My hobby-horse, if you recollect a little, is no way a vicious beast; he has scarce one hair or lineament of the ass about him --- 'Tis the sporting little filly-folly which carries you out for the present hour - a maggot, a butterfly, a picture, a fiddle-stick - an uncle Toby's siege - or an any thing, which man makes a shift to get a stride on, to canter it away from the cares and solicitudes of life - 'Tis as useful a beast as it is in the whole creation - nor do I see how the world could do without it ---

Words to live by, sadly thrown by the roadside in this modern times we are living right now, when so many people are trying to impose their hobby-horses on everybody else. But let us continue with Tristram's misadventures, this improbable hero doomed right from the start:

I have been the continual sport of what the world calls Fortune; and though I will not wrong her by saying, she has ever made me feel the weight of any great or signal evil, yet with all the good temper in the world, I affirm it of her, That in every stage of my life, and at every turn and corner where she could fairly get at me, the ungracious Duchess has pelted me with a set of pitiful misadventures and cross accidents as ever small Hero sustained.

[to be continued]
Profile Image for Ted.
515 reviews744 followers
July 11, 2017
The name of this review in its saved document is “Review Tristram Shandy NEEDS A FULLER REVIEW”. Hence this fuller review, dashed off in a few minutes, or tens or twenties or thirties of minutes. Which of course reminds us, as Montaigne once wrote, “The hour of parleying is dangerous.” But given that truth, what am I to say about my own parleying with Sterne, if it goes on beyond an hour? or achieves its end in less than an hour? By whom would this danger be faced? By I the writer? Or by you the reader? And what danger would need confrontation? The danger of boredom? The danger of falling off a chair? The danger of mistakenly imbibing the Amanita bisporigera (destroying angel as it’s known commonly)? Perhaps, to cut to the chase and make once again a reference to Stern himself, by obliquely referring to one of his favorite sources of quotations, the danger of melancholy!?

We shall perhaps return to these sharp questions. Or perhaps not. At any rate …

4 1/2. I can't quite up this to a 5 since - well, of course I could, and perhaps should. After all, five in the Bible is significant because God’s creation - 'man' – and ‘woman’ too, we are told - has five fingers, five senses and five toes; not four and one-half of each – nor does man and woman in fact have five hands or five feet – though of course when we speak of the length, that is height, of a man or woman the achievement of having five feet, or even more, is by no means unusual. And thus to continue, five is the number of God's grace, and by giving Sterne’s book five stars – which by the by I will in fact allow myself to do at this late date, so in that manner to confront the Lord with a five star rating, and challenge Him – or is it Her? – to bless this review with bountiful victuals … aha, haha, and la-de-da, that slip reveals that eating, or at least the thought of snacking, has slipped into my mind, slipped out of my belly perhaps, wriggled upwards through the grams, ounces, pounds, stone [note the correct plural used for the units Sterne himself would have used for measuring the massivity of men/women/anything-else] of my flesh straight into the noncorporeal organ of thought; which circumstance reminds us of Gluttony, and the harm which is visited upon both body and soul by that Cardinal sin, so that, in Burton’s words, “As a lamp is choked with a multitude of oil, or a little fire with overmuch wood quite extinguished, so is the natural heat with immoderate eating strangled in the body. Perniciosa sentina est abdomen insaturabile, which means “that goes double for immoderate snacking”. And verily, I hence cross out my original reason for withholding the blessed five thus ---->> by my criteria I'd have to believe I might read it a second time, and I don't think that's likely, more because of the length than anything else. However, a problem here arises, for I have in effect crossed out as well the very phrase which appears in bold as the first few words of this modest paragraph. Thus I implore the reader to substitute, in their own mind (or whatever they use for thinking/perceiving) the words Five stars. 4 1/2. I can't quite up this to a 5 since for that "very phrase" referred to in the previous sentence.

But we will return to this repast/riposte later. Or perhaps not. Anyway …

It is a very impressive piece of literature, and extremely funny in many, many parts. And here I can again strike out -----> Hopefully I will write a more illuminating review at some point. because, this more illuminating review is here present and accounted for, my confidence in this increased illumination, or light if you will, illustrating as Montaigne said, that “this strong confidence can only be manifested, natural and entire, by those who are not terrified by the thought of death …”

Be that as it may, let us put aside thoughts of death for the present, and return to them aplenty later. But maybe we won’t, it is something of a downer, which recalls the subject/topic/thesis/adumbration/ what-have-you of melancholy – leading to the great Burton and his comment on natural death, that “Calenus and his Indians hated of old to die a natural death: the Circumcellions and Donatists, loathing life, compelled others to make them away: but these are false and pagan positions, profane Stoical paradoxes, wicked examples; it boots not what heathen philosophers determine in this kind, they are impious, abominable, and upon a wrong ground”. He could as well have said “upon a wrong hobby horse”, but regardless, the question becomes, if we hark back to Gluttony, whether or not death by Gluttony is a natural or unnatural death.

I started reading it as an e-book, and persevered through Volume V chapter III, almost half way. At that point I bought a used copy of the Oxford World's Classics edition, which in the number and arcane references of its notes made me think of Joyce's Ulysses. I highly recommend this edition, which also includes a 25 page introduction (not yet read by me), an eight page bibliography, and those 60+ pages of Explanatory Notes (in small print). I can aver that that piece of narrative seems quite apposite to a review, hence find no inclination to strike it from the increased illumination cast on it in the presence of this enlarged review. But speaking of large reviews, my thoughts range to large reviews I have penned (well of course “penned” is inaccurate, we in modern times use not pens for composition or to hold free-range animals) – but let “penned” stand, if the pen fall down the thoughts will stray away – which phrase, though not actually used in the review, does bring to mind the essay/review/narrative/story I penned/wrote/typed/composed/brought-to-light/whatever/blah-blah-blah about the book The Things They Carried, and specifically within that review/narrative/story/essay the lengthy quotation I presented from the author’s brilliant story/chapter Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong, and more specifically, the final section of that story, introduced with the words, “And then one morning, all alone, Mary Anne walked off into the mountains and did not come back.” Which was naturally what that phrase “stray away” would, I think, remind anyone of.

By this time, I think I've wrapped all loose ends of this review around each other, tangled into an impenetrable knot, such that readers will gratefully escape further comments, unless they already have escaped - in which case they and I are equally in the dark about my ultimate motives.

On that note – B-flat it sounds like – I’ll turn off the illumination, much as I would enjoy continuing this beyond whatever time it has taken, but heedful of Montaigne’s warning about parleying and danger, I will leave the review as it now stands – or falls.

If you enjoy 18th century classics (or earlier ones, such as Montaigne, Burton, Bacon - because of Sterne’s references to his antecedents), you should be all means give this a try.
Profile Image for J.
194 reviews100 followers
June 22, 2022
WARNING: This review may be inappropriate for some readers.

Ah...18th century novels: you are going to find some archaic language, some sayings and references you've never heard before. Here at least we have endnotes to help with that; thanks to them and the author's wit, it is entirely possible to get most of the humor of Laurence Sterne and be entertained by his digressions.

Shandy is both a joy and a pain. It is not a page-turner. Yet, at times, I was excited to find out what would happen to Toby and Ms. Wadman, what might occur during the title character's birth or later travels. Then I would have to scoff at myself for expecting Sterne to give us anything like a standard conclusion to even the most trivial of subplots. But as our narrator tells us, "Every man will speak of the fair as his own market has gone in it."

It is an early example of meta-fiction. It is bawdy and satirical. Some call it a postmodern novel written 150 years before modernism. And after one has read it and compared it to writings by the likes of James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, David Foster Wallace, and Richard Flanagan, and considering that Arthur Schopenhauer counted it as his favorite English romance, it should be heralded as one of the most influential novels ever written.

About those old sayings and terms: the use of the word hobby comes from the term hobby-horse. A hobby-horse was a metaphor for a person's vocation or a pastime. Sterne had this to say: "...and so long as a man rides his Hobby Horse peaceably and quietly along the King's highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him, pray, Sir, what have either you or I to do with it?" Contained herein is a whole moral philosophy to which any rational human could subscribe. And another thing, the term "Gadzooks" is a corruption of "God's hooks", as in the crucifixion.

Future readers: when the going gets tough and you wonder why you're reading a work with no real plot from the 1750s, remember a quote from the book (Sterne is quoting Pliny the Younger): "I never read a book so bad I drew no profit from it."

Not only does Sterne make digressions on top of digressions, but he converses with his audience about when he will be getting down to the portion of the story he has mentioned and assured us he will tell. Whether he actually gets to the part he promises is another matter.

He addresses and redresses his critics. Late in the book the narrator's illness is mentioned--it is presented as Tristram's illness--but through the endnotes we know that Sterne was actually suffering from tuberculosis during the writing of the latter volumes.

To illustrate the roundabout nature of the book, I have Tristram's birth not occurring until about page 258.

Lovers of classics and the Western Canon will likely enjoy this one. It is a novel that questions the nature of novels. And as I've alluded, you are likely to see its influence on something you've previously read.

Just remember, though, that in essence, it is one long d*ck-joke.
Profile Image for Tony.
919 reviews1,556 followers
December 28, 2014
May it please your honours, and you, Madam, who certainly inspired the reading if not the reviewing of this book with your own * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *; as I tend not to dabble in the 18th Century. This seminal tale, waxing autobiographical, takes three of the nine volumes at play before our narrator is coaxed out and erroneously christened. My own arrival was unremarkable----if somewhat delayed; My mother, prone to superstition and intuitive causality, -----she would, for instance, blame NASA for every weather event -----indicted a serviceman’s yellow jaundice for the tardiness of my conception. I was, in short, a pleasant surprise; a phrase which would not thereafter be renewed in describing me.

The christening was another matter, however. The naming went as intended, unlike the unfortunate Tristram;----I was to be a junior. I asked my father, years later, what the last name meant—a jumble of letters rendered pronounceable by some hurried Ellis Island functionary. I was hoping for DEFENDER OF THE FAITH or LONE WARRIOR IN BATTLE; something snazzy;----BUT, no, he said, it came from the Polish word for horseradish. My grandmother, who came to the U.S. from Poland alone at age 13, would smile at our obligatory annual visit and call me YAN-TUSH, apparently a Polish endearment for JUNIOR, but what is roughly translated as little stem. So, you know, I have that going for me.

The godparents were carefully chosen. Uncle Butch, with steel-blue eyes and white knuckles, chewed his cheroots and very much liked his beer and whiskey chaser. My christening would be the first ---- excepting the time he stole an ambulance in England during WWII to go visit his brother, my father, and create an international incident;------ and last time he ventured more than five miles from his abode. Aunt Mary did not, and does not, walk into a room; she makes an entrance, Hollywood style. Aunt Mary did not have Uncle Butch’s problem with the brown liquid, but she was not opposed and was certainly an enabler. It was the second day of the party when they were entrusted with ME;---- in flowing white: for the walk to the church. They feigned sober as they entered, and would have pulled it off had not Father Walter asked where the baby was. They had, it seems, misplaced your narrator. The exact period of my unsupervision is uncertain --- accounts vary ---- and this in no way is an excuse for my subsequent misbehavior nor my naming, which, as I reported, was no accident. HOWEVER; I’ve a tendency to digression, which makes me a suitable reader for one who takes 300 pages to be born. Digressions, incontestably, are the sun-shine:----they are the life, the soul of reading;- - -take them out of this book for instance; - - you might as well take the book along with them;---

But I digress.

Of all the cants which are canted in this canting world, ----though the cant of hypocrites may be the worst, ---the cant of criticism is the most tormenting!

This is a carnival ride of a book; a journey of head-spinning and wry smiles and knowing winks; teaching us we play at War and work at Love. Sterne is indebted to Cervantes and presages Dickens. So, thank-ee Madam; for * * * * * * * ; the 18th C. That was then and This is now; ----except when they’re the same.
Profile Image for Edward.
419 reviews406 followers
February 27, 2020
I am reminded of the popular idea within biology of the "Precambrian rabbit" - that is, a bunny found fossilised within a much earlier geological stratum - considered something that would be so out of place as to call into question the entire Theory of Evolution. Tristram Shandy is like a literary Precambrian rabbit. Here is a work of pure postmodernism, published in the middle of the Eighteenth Century. Whereas even with other "revolutionary" works one can usually still trace a line of incremental innovation as styles are popularised and movements take hold, Tristram Shandy seems to appear fully formed and lacking the usual explanatory pedigree. It is (language aside) so unlike the works of its time and so very much like those that would become popular two hundred years later, that it's difficult to know what to make of it, except to acknowledge that perhaps in our quest to neatly define and categorise history we can sometimes overestimate the achievements of the recent past, and overlook the incredible capacity for human creativity that has been with us from the beginning.
Profile Image for Nova.
187 reviews23 followers
July 30, 2023
ترجمه‌ی در دست، غنیمتیست که باید قدر آن را بسیار دانست. با این حال بی‌ایراد نیست. اما چه بسا که بیشتر این ایرادات را باید از قصور ناشر دانست! ناکافی بودن پانویس‌ها در توضیح ارجاعات کلیدی این کتاب، جا افتادن تصاویر کتاب از چاپ (نسخه‌ی من چاپ ششم است) و جا افتادگی جملاتی چند از ترجمه و ترجمه‌ی اشتباه پاره‌ای دیگر (خوشبختانه چندان جای نگرانی نیست چرا که موارد کم اهمیت و انگشت‌شمارند و تیغ سانسورچی در این ترجمه راه نیافته)، مرا بر آن داشت که راهنمایی گردآوری کنم از هر آنچه که به خواننده در رمزگشایی متن این کتاب یاری می‌رساند.
از این لینک می‌توانید به آن دسترسی پیدا کنید.

لارنس استرن، تریسترام شندی را با الهام از دن کیشوت سروانتس نوشته است. دن کیشوت بخاطر مدل روایتش، داستان در داستان بودنش، مضامینی که در خلال گفتگوهایش مطرح می‌کند و بخاطر نوع طنز و نقدی که به مذهب، ادبیات و فضای فکری دوران دارد، اولین رمان مدرن محسوب می‌شود. چرا که سروانتس در این کتاب، برخلاف سایرین اهل قلم دوران و پیشینیانش، درس ادب و فضیلت نمی‌دهد، طرفداری نمی‌کند، قصد رسیدن به هیچ پاسخی ندارد و به عهده‌ی خواننده می‌گذارد که برداشت و تاویلات خود را از داستان داشته باشد (حداقل در جلد اول این رمان). رمان‌های قبل از دن کی��وت، حتی اگر چنین ویژگی‌ای را هم در خود داشتند، اکثرا در یک قالب واقع‌گرایانه اتفاق نمی‌افتادند. یعنی روایت تعاملات و واقعیات روزمره نبودند و برای مثال، متل و مثل، خیالی، اسطوره‌ای یا حماسی بودند.

از زیر شنل دن کیشوت، یکی دو رمان دیگر نیز سر براوردند که با فراتر بردن تکنیک‌های نوآورانه‌ای از جمله بینامتنیت، متافیکشن و فرا داستانی بودن، کنایه و پارودی، که از دن کیشوت به ارث برداشته‌اند، به نوبه‌ی خود پدران ادبیات پست مدرن محسوب می‌شوند: تریسترام شندی و سپس ژاک قضاقدری.

اما تریسترام شندی استرن تنها وامدار از دن کیشوت سروانتس نیست؛ با بررسی ارجاعات درون روایتی این کتاب، می‌توان گفت که این اثر از ترکیب صنایع ادبی طنز و کنایه، هجونامه، جستار اندیشمندانه و بیان خردمندانه بوجود آمده که به ترتیب، بانیانشان، میگل د سروانتس، فرانسوا رابله، میشل دو مونتنی و رابرت برتون، و جاناتان سوئیفت بوده‌اند.

از دنیای فلسفه نیز استرن، جان لاک را برگزیده تا در خلال شخصیت پردازی‌ها و مکالمه‌ها به نقد برخی از تفکرات او در مهم‌ترین اثرش "مقاله‌ای در باب فهم بشر" بپردازد.

از نقد مفهوم "تداعی معانی"* لاک با ارتباط دادن کوک کردن ساعت به جلسات رایزنی در تختخواب والتر در شب‌های یکشنبه، تا نشان دادن تقابل طرز تفکر و برداشت‌های شخصی دو برادر بواسطه‌ی اسپ‌های هوسشان با پل زدن بین دو دنیای از زمین تا آسمان متفاوت والتر و توبی شندی و سپس تخریب آن بوسیله‌ی دکتر اسلاپ برای شکسته‌بندی پل بینی تریسترام، یا نقد دیدگاه لاک درباره‌ی زبان و تفاوت مفهوم کلمات در قالب‌های مختلف محتوایی با پیچاندن کلمه‌ی پازلفی و واداشتن به ارتباط ناخوداگاه آن به مفاهیم جنسی، استرن روایتی هوشمندانه و پویا پدید آورده که نه تنها سرگرم می‌کند، به تفکر نقادانه نیز وا می‌دارد.

استرن در نقد لاک تا آنجا پیش رفته که دیباجه‌ی دیرهنگام کتاب (فصل بیستم جلد سوم) را تماما به انتقاد از دیدگاه او درباره‌ی خرد و تشخیص** اختصاص دهد.

تفسیر دیباجه:

اول باید دید که تعریف لاک از "خرد" و "تشخیص" چه بوده:
لاک، wit یا خرد را مجموعه‌ای از ایده‌ها، ادراکات، استدلالات و به طور کلی مجموعه‌ای از دانش‌ها می‌دانست.
اما judgement یا تشخیص را قوه‌ای می‌دید که کمک می‌کرد از بین این مجموعه‌ی دانش‌ها، ایده‌هایی که درست و منطبق با واقعیات و منطق هستند را جدا کرده و استفاده کنیم.
در نتیجه‌ی این تعریف، لاک، جایگاه تشخیص را برتر و بالاتر از خرد در نظر می‌گرفت.

استرن در این دیباجه با تشبیه خرد و تشخیص به دو قُبه‌ی یک صندلی که اگر یکی را نداشته باشد آن‌یکی نیز بیخود و بلااستفاده می‌شود، سعی دارد اذعان کند که این‌ها هر دو برای تفکر و فعالیت ذهنی به یک اندازه لازمند و اگر کمیت یکی بلنگد، دیگری نیز لنگ می‌شود و کاربرد مستقل از هم ندارند.

اما چرا استرن آنقدر بر مانور روی این موضوع اصرار دارد؟

کلمه‌ی wit فقط به معنای خرد نیست و در خودش معانی زرنگی، رندی، مزه‌پرانی و مزاح را هم دارد و یکی از روش‌های مزه‌پرانی، کنایی و در لفافه صحبت کردن است برای همین است که تریسترام می‌گوید: "اگر همه صاحب خرد بزرگ می‌شدند همه‌جا تمسخر می‌بود و ریشخند وحاضرجوابی."
و این البته همان چیزیست که در این کتاب موج می‌زند، بطوریکه یکسره هنگام خواندن آن با کنایه، سارکزم و کلمات دوپهلو و استعاره و مَجاز روبرو می‌شویم.
انگار استرن قصد داشته باشد ما را متوجه این موضوع کند که بله! این قوه‌ی تشخیص است که در چارچوب محتوا، بین معانی‌ای که یک واژه یا یک عبارت تداعی می‌کند، کدامیک مدنظر است یا اینکه درنظر گرفتن هرکدام از این معانی چگونه مفهوم را عوض می‌کند. اما اگر از اول خرد نیامده بود و واژه را اینطور تبیین نکرده بود، تشخیص هم اینجا کاری برای انجام دادن نداشت. پس این دو لازم و ملزوم یکدیگرند و خواننده‌ی گرامی لطفا موقع خواندن، هر دو را به کار بگیر تا با ظرایف متن من بیشتر آشنا شوی!___

تکنیک دیگری که شخصیت‌پردازی و روایت این کتاب را یک سر و گردن بالاتر برده، "گریز زدن" است. در تعاملات بسیارِ ذهنیت‌های متفاوت شخصیت‌های کتاب با هم، در ابتدا لازم است که خواننده با دنیای هر یک از آن‌ها آشنایی بهم زند و پیش‌فرض‌هایی بدست آورد. برای مثال پیش از اینکه اهمیت جمله‌ای را که تا نیمه از دهان عمو توبی بیرون پریده درک کنیم، باید پیشینه‌ای از علایق، خلقیات و طرز تفکر او بدست بیاوریم و درست در همینجاست که راوی، ادامه‌ی مکالمه را بین زمین و هوا معلق نگه می‌دارد تا با گریزی به گذشته، خواننده را با عموی خود آشنا کند.
یا به محض اینکه حال پدر خود را از شیوه‌ی بدنیا آمدنش دگرگون ترسیم می‌کند، برای تداعی ضربه‌ی سنگینی که به روح و روان پدر وارد شده، آب دستش است زمین می‌گذارد و بلافاصله به شرح دنیای درون ذهن پدرش و توصیف اسپ‌های هوسی که در آن می‌تازند و اهمیت اسم‌ها، دماغ‌ها، تولد‌ها و آموخته‌ها را تا سرحدات آن می‌کشانند، گریز می‌زند.

تصاویر نیز در این کتاب، با بازتعریف شدن در یک قالب زبانی، نقش روایتگرانی گویاتر از کلمات را دارند. استرن با قرار دادن المان‌هایی فرا متنی و تبدیل آن‌ها به اجزای ��ک زبان***، ظرفیت‌های ادبی را به چالش می‌کشد و بیانگری را به مرحله‌ی جدیدی می‌برد.

"I wrote a careless kind of civil, nonsensical, good-humored Shandean book, which will do all your hearts good — And all your heads too, — provided you understand it" (VI, xvii)

خواندن این کتاب تنها به مخاطبان حرفه‌ای ادبیات پیشنهاد می‌شود که ذوق و حوصله‌ی پرسه زدن ورای پرده‌ی متن را داشته باشند.

* Association of Ideas
** Wit & Judgement
*** language
Profile Image for Evripidis Gousiaris.
229 reviews100 followers
November 6, 2016
Πρώτα από όλα… Θα σας παρακαλούσα να επισκεφθείτε την σελίδα του συγγραφέα, εδώ στο Goodreads, προκειμένου να δείτε το πορτραίτο του. Παρατηρήστε το πρόσωπο του και στην συνέχεια φανταστείτε τον να γράφει ολόκληρο το βιβλίο με αυτό ακριβώς το βλέμμα.

Αυτήν η ίσως παιχνιδιάρικη ματιά, το μάλλον πονηρό του χαμόγελο και γενικότερα το ύφος του, μεταφέρεται και μετατρέπεται στο ύφος του βιβλίου.

Γραμμένο τον 18ο αιώνα, το βιβλίο όπως μας αναφέρει ο ίδιος ο συγγραφέας στην εισαγωγή του έχει έναν και μόνο σκοπό. Να κάνει τον αναγνώστη να χαμογελάσει. Κάτι το οποίο σε έμενα πέτυχε και με το παραπάνω.

Όπως μας πληροφορεί και ο τίτλος, το βιβλίο παρουσιάζει την ζωή και τις απόψεις του ΤΡΙΣΤΡΑΜ ΣΑΝΤΙ. Έναν ήρωα ο οποίος από την αρχή του βιβλίου μας συστήνει με τον πατέρα του, τον θείο του και διάφορα άλλα οικογενειακά πρόσωπα χωρίς ακόμα να έχει γεννηθεί. Για την ακρίβεια ο ήρωας αυτός, ο οποίος σύμφωνα με τον τίτλο θα έπρεπε να είναι ο πρωταγωνιστής, γεννιέται μετά την μέση του βιβλίου. (Δηλαδή περίπου στην 400 σελίδα από τις 700). Γενικότερα θα έλεγα ότι δεν εμφανίζεται και πολύ… Ναι, ακόμα και ο τίτλος σε αυτό το βιβλίο έχει σκοπό να κάνει τον αναγνώστη να γελάσει, μιας και δεν ανταποκρίνεται επαρκώς με το περιεχόμενο του βιβλίου.

Το βιβλίο θα έλεγα δεν έχει συγκεκριμένη πλοκή μιας και παρουσιάζει κυρίως διάφορες σκηνές από την ζωή του πατέρα και του θείου του «πρωταγωνιστή». Οι αφηγήσεις αυτές διακόπτονται συνεχώς από σχόλια και παρατηρήσεις του συγγραφέα, ο οποίος παίρνοντας τον ρόλο του πρωταγωνιστή/παρατηρητή/αφηγητή ΤΡΙΣΤΡΑΜ ΣΑΝΤΙ σχολιάζει και σατιρίζει σχεδόν τα πάντα.

Ο Laurence Sterne περιγράφει συνεχώς αστείες καταστάσεις και γελοίες ιστορίες με φιλοσοφικό περιεχόμενο (με μια θερβαντική σοβαρότητα) χωρίς να ξεφεύγει από τα όρια. Σατιρίζοντας τα πάντα «αποδεικνύει» πόσο σημαντικό είναι τ�� όνομα αλλά και το μέγεθος της μύτης για την πορεία ενός ανθρώπου καταδικάζοντας στην συνέχεια τον «άτυχο πρωταγωνιστή».

Ανοίγει πολλές παρενθέσεις περνώντας από το θέμα Α στο Β, οι οποίες διαρκούν ακόμα και ολόκληρα κεφάλαια (ή και περισσότερα). Στην συνέχεια ξεκινάει καινούριο κεφάλαιο με μια μόνο πρόταση προκειμένου να ενημερώσει το κοινό ότι επιστρέφει στο θέμα Α.

Αφήνει κενά στις σελίδες ή σε προτάσεις προκειμένου να συμπληρώσει ο αναγνώστης όπως αυτός επιθυμεί και γενικά υπάρχει μια συνεχώς αστεία επικοινωνία μεταξύ συγγραφέα- αναγνώστη.

Τέλος, λάτρεψα τον τρόπο με τον οποίο ο συγγραφέας κατάφερε να αφήσει πονηρά υπονοούμενα χωρίς να γίνει χυδαίος και χωρίς να προσβάλει τον αναγνώστη.

Εξαιρετικό βιβλίο που αν καταλάβεις και συνηθίσεις τον τρόπο αφήγησής του θα σε κάνει συνεχώς γελάς. Με έξυπνο, πονηρό, αλλά και διαχρονικό χιούμορ κατάφερε να μείνει πάντα επίκαιρο και ταυτόχρονα πιο μπροστά από την εποχή που διαβάζεται (ακόμα και τώρα!).

Υ.Γ.1 Η μετάφραση της Έφης Καλλιφατίδη είναι για άλλη μια φορά εκπληκτική.
Υ.Γ.2 Ίσως θα εκτιμηθεί παραπάνω από άτομα που έχουν διαβάσει τον Δον Κιχώτη μιας και υπάρχουν πολλές αναφορές στο όνομα και στην ιστορία του αλλά επίσης και γιατί ο συγγραφέας μιμείται οικειοθελώς το αφηγηματικό του στυλ.
Profile Image for J.
730 reviews456 followers
July 19, 2014
I wanted to like this, I really did. Sterne is a hugely inventive, hugely capable writer. Maybe he doesn't go in for the batshit linguistic free-for-all that people like James Joyce do, but he is every bit as bizarre and technically innovative. You could recognize one of his wildly digressive, over-mannered sentences in a heartbeat. But I still couldn't stand Tristam Shandy. Not because it's 'bad' per se, (parts of it are extremely engaging and genuinely funny in a way that basically no writing from the 18th century is engaging or funny) but because it seemed like the work of a huge talent essentially dicking around for hundreds and hundreds of pages on what felt like, to me, a gimmick. Don't get me wrong, if modern literature has proven anything it's that huge, digressive chunks of text have a totally valid and at times, even stunning place in fiction and non-fiction alike. But a digression, however audacious or clever, is still a movement away from something, and Tristram Shandy doesn't really have anything to move away from, or back to. It's got no center. Maybe I'm not a conceptually ambitious enough reader to appreciate something this free-floating, but this book makes even the most fanatically post-modern fiction seem 'tame' by comparison. Tons of newer novels try to make it painfully clear just how decentralized they are, how utterly discursive and free from the confines of our often admittedly stodgy literary traditions they can be. Sterne wrote something that actually is those things, and while that might be clever on his part, it's just not enough. Not from someone who obviously has the chops to do so much more.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,049 reviews4,118 followers
November 4, 2012
This edition from Visual Editions expands upon, or at least emphasises, the typographical fancies Sterne deployed for his maddening nine-book digressive epic. Combining black and red font effects (all the dashes and chapter titles are in red), with unique artistic stunts (the infamous black page is replaced by a strikethrough design, various font frolics are exaggerated in amusing ways, and one page includes a ‘moisture’ effect using semi-laminate bubbles over the text), the book isn’t perhaps as radical as it appears, but it mainlines some creativity into otherwise bland Penguin or OUP editions. Other effects include Slawkenbergius’s tale printed on a parchment-like gray background (in red font!), a folded page which has to be ‘closed’ to read the text on the other side, and an enhancement of Sterne’s barmy plotline squiggles that attempt to map a coherent path for the book. The edition is lacking in explanatory notes, meaning a new reader interested in keeping up with the Latin, Greek and French asides, or the avalanche of obscure references that come thicker and faster as the book—um, progresses?—digresses, will need to have a Penguin or OUP edition handy. (I read this constantly flipping back to the OUP ed for notes—eventually I gave up). Tristram Shandy, as you will discover, may be a book of digressions and wild goose chases, but it demands Zen-like concentration for both the scholasticism and the difficult 18thC English. I hope to prove a better reader on the second spin. Michael Winterbottom made the film with Steve Coogan.
Profile Image for Nikos Tsentemeidis.
413 reviews216 followers
June 7, 2018
Πολύ ιδιαίτερο-πρωτότυπο βιβλίο.

Θα μπορούσε να ανήκει στην εξής φανταστική τριλογία:
- Γαργαντούας και Πανταγκρυέλ
- Τρίστραμ Σάντι
- Οδυσσέας

Χωρίς να έχει κάτι αξιοσημείωτο στην πλοκή του, παρόλα αυτά είναι διασκεδαστικό και με συχνές δόσεις φιλοσοφίας.
Profile Image for David Lentz.
Author 17 books313 followers
June 21, 2011
There is so much in this novel one hardly knows where to begin, which is Sterne's hilarious problem for the first 300 pages or so. Tristram Shandy is a comic masterpiece, like Fielding's Tom Jones, which arose barely after the invention of the genre. Even Sterne's name almost seems a play on words and it's easy to see why great minds who followed Sterne like Nietzsche (Note "The Ass Festival" in Zarathustra), Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot), James Joyce (Ulysses) and J.P. Donleavy (Darcy Dancer, Gentleman, The Singular Man, Balthazar B., The Ginger Man, Saddest Summer of Samuel S.) admired immensely and were influenced by him. One has to love the way that Toby explains to Mrs. Wadman where he was wounded during one of her sieges of his fortress. One has to laugh at Sterne's tearing out of chapters, allowing the reader to pencil in his favorite profanities, making sense of pages of black ink, marbled patterns, blank pages and squiggled lines marking little ups and downs -- as obscure as the raw meaning of life itself. He writes chapters about whiskers, noses, buttons and nothing. I especially enjoyed the dedications to famous persons before several of his volumes. The epigrams were delicious and the careful reader is rewarded on every page for paying close attention to Sterne's often subtle comic style. Sterne certainly opened up the genre with an experimental literary style in which he created a vibrant, raucous, hilarious novel still relevant 300 years after it was penned. I can't say enough about the contribution of this comic gem to the literary works that followed, especially in Ireland. If you're a serious reader with a sense of humor, you'll be amused and enlightened by Sterne's intrepid wit.
Profile Image for Barry Pierce.
576 reviews7,753 followers
March 16, 2018
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a novel that is somehow greatly entertaining and impossibly infuriating at the same time.

Tristram, our narrator and author, is quite partial to tangents. Actually, no. A true tangent has to touch the circle at one point. Tristram completely bypasses the circle. This is a novel about a man trying to write a novel. However, he is quite easily distracted. Just when there's a bare semblance of a plot, Tristram goes off on a reel about something else. For example: Tristram tries to write about his birth, he goes slightly off-topic, we finally witness his birth around page 150.

For some, this novel would be absolute hell. And at points, I was of that mindset. But then Sterne would come through with some of the most ridiculous and hilarious scenes that all is eventually forgiven. There are chapters in here that are some of the funniest I've ever read (Tristram's accidental circumcision for example). And these parts really prop up the entire novel. It is first and foremost a farce and a social satire, or a cock and bull story.

If you are thinking of tackling Tristram Shandy then in the words of the Scouts: be prepared. You'll hate this novel and you'll love this novel. In the end they'll balance out. That dichotomy is something of Tristram's HOBBY-HORSE.
Profile Image for P.E..
777 reviews558 followers
October 28, 2019
- A glorious comedy of errors,
- A story on storytellers and storytelling,
- A riot of authorial asides, silly interruptions and hilarious direct adresses to you reader,
- A portrait of the writer as an outstanding conversationalist :)

Soundtrack :
Lillibullero - Barry Lyndon OST
Profile Image for Alan.
Author 6 books302 followers
February 16, 2021
Sterne invented a certain kind of modernity--the sexually allusive, apparently offhand, discontinuous, immediate....His prose, often written under the burden of tuberculosis, and even the despair of his wife, achieves an appearance that is genial and carefree. Uncle Toby is one of the great characters in English fiction.
Sterne confesses that the more he writes, the further behind in the story he gets. A wonderful concept, and true for an expansive mind like his. One can think of others for whom this may also be true: Joyce, in particular. But possibly also TS Eliot. John Updike? Whitman? Carl Sandburg in his poetry, not in his Lincoln.

Remarkably Sterne wrote a quarter millenium ago, yet his truest confreres are fairly recent. Perhaps more remarkably, Sterne set the standard for hilarity, an unsurpassed standard for clerical humor. Did I say that? Surely his humor is not clerical, yet he was a cleric. Just as surely, Robert Herrick's poetry, except in his Noble Numbers, is not clerical, though he was a cleric. And John Donne's poetry.
Oh dear, we have stumbled on the English Conundrum. It is inconceivable for a priest--an Irish priest, an Italian priest--to have written Tristram Shandy. Even America, which also educated principally ministers, failed to produce clerically-educated, literary humor like Sterne's.

A clergyman, Sterne certainly knew how seriousness was enhanced by stance and by robes. Robes can carry the cleric who "carries" (or wears) them. Thus, he defines seriousness, "Gravity [is] a mysterious carriage of the body to cover the defects of the mind."* Yorick says this proverb should be graven in gold. Robes add to the mysteriousness of the carriage, and the hiding of mental defect.
* Probably adapted from LaRochefoucauld, Maximes, 257.

As a note, my undergrad Shakespeare teacher (38 plays in year course) Theodore Baird wrote an article on Sterne, "The time scheme of TS and a source" which may have been published in the Norton Critical TS. (Baird owned the only FL Wright house in New England, built in 1940 for $5,000. Still stands at 37 Shays Street, Amherst, MA.)
Profile Image for Marc.
3,109 reviews1,175 followers
July 29, 2022
Like with so many other readers, this early-modern book (1759-1767) in me aroused feelings of alternating irritation and amusement. The irritation of course is related to the endless digressions, which Sterne consciously uses as a figure of style, but which does at times drive you crazy. And the amusement especially has to do with the comical situations he describes, the small human features of his characters, and the pseudo-learned style in which this book is written. The humorous elements tumble over each other, and drive the satirical content of this book almost to the level of the Don Quixote. It should not come as a surprise that the references to Cervantes and Rabelais are often very explicit.

I must confess that I have not read this book in its entirety (that's why I don't give it a rating). After the first two volumes I skipped large parts, but I kept reading until the end. And then I noticed that Sterne's digressions became somewhat more limited, that he referred much more frequently to his own poor health, and that his life story became more and more a travelogue. Only the antipathetic, often misogynistic statements of his father, and the military hobby horse of his much more sympathetic uncle Toby, remain recurring elements.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau is often identified as the first writer to write a true autobiography (in his Confessions). It was published in 1770. With this Tristram Shandy Sterne was almost 10 years ahead of him, but at the same time it is a mockery of a genre that would one day come firmly into the canon of Western literature.
Profile Image for Markus.
644 reviews78 followers
February 27, 2020
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent.
Laurence Sterne (1713 – 1768)

Tristram Shandy is the name of the hero of this fictional work which was first published in 1760.
Written in the first person, the reader may assume that the author speaks of himself.

The first half of the book speaks of the process of the birth of our hero. And even about his conception by his parents of him.

His mother giving birth, she would seem to have been the main character, but she is not.
She is hardly ever mentioned and is there in the background, in labour, upstairs.

Downstairs we have Tristram's father and his uncle, Toby Shandy and occasionally other friends and visitors in conversations about all and everything, religion, philosophy, literature, history and experiences.

Digressions are the main subjects of the book.
It takes up to about half the book before Tristram is actually born.

A lot about uncle Toby’s experience as a soldier and his unfortunate wound inflicted on him in the battle against the French at the siege of Namur in Flanders country.

And then there is more about uncle Toby and his falling in love with the problem for the future wife of not knowing if Toby is in a position to consume the marriage. Toby’s battle wound being placed in the most delicate place on the body of a man.

If there is not much of a continuous story to be found in this work, except the “Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy” there is however the extreme wordy and witty style and vocabulary that make this book outstanding and even exceptional.

This work could serve as TOEFL, Test of English as a Foreign Language.
The reader who can read and understand this language fully and completely must indeed be good in English.

In modern times it is common to read works of fiction without any structure or frame;
the author is just writing down every thought that crosses his mind.

It was certainly unusual in 1760, and this work established its place as a classic and has retained it ever since.

Recommended reading to all admirers of classic literature.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,931 reviews439 followers
December 26, 2017
'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy' is a fictional memoir of sorts, but the novel is written in a manner to subvert the formal conventions of the novel (a proto-post-modern genre), and along the way, assert the role of the author as a Maximus Prime Writer, or in other words, someone in complete control of your television set. It is all in good fun, a wonderful satire that aims for lowbrow comedy by using every single aspect of the highbrow educated culture of 1760. To mention some examples of the author's games with the reader, the Dedication is placed after several chapters of the book, chapters are skipped or missing, the narration of the action is interrupted by sudden 'ejaculations' of listening characters or the author who are reminded of another story, which may or may not be finished in the telling, while the original plot thread may be mislaid for awhile.

If you are looking for any forward motion in the plot, forget it. Sterne fills his novel cover to cover with literary/philosophical/Christian/ancient Greek/ French intellectual essay and Art references that are twisted into puns, jokes, wordplay and wayward opinions and speeches, but especially digressions. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of digressions. Not only does the conversation and remembrances during the night of Tristram's birth take up 40% of the book before he is born and named, but one of the nine 'books' (sections) is a lively inserted travelogue of the author's trip to Paris.

There is mention early in the book of an amusing mysterious injury that a central character suffered and that Tristram promises to explain, which he eventually does in a chaotic collage of revisited scenes involving an anxious romance. This mystery is possibly the one reason that some readers finish the book in spite of its archaic language and frustrating construction.

The excessive ornamentation of the writing, which delights even as it clearly is a satire on ornamentation of writing in general, functions to bring a million subtle and crude representations of the male ***** to the fore in painfully hilarious tales and bawdy torments into funny literary tropes (such as sex-comedy scenes, romantic fails, marital interplays, social proposals which at first appear quite respectable). That said, Sterne also seems to conclude sometimes a banana is just a banana, and we readers are too quick to judge.

Sterne entertains as he experiments with font changes, colored wordless pages, and curly lines which refuse to be straightforward. He also makes sure to protect the reader from profane parts with plenty of **********. This all makes for a curious read, already slow because of untranslated foreign language quotations and unorthodox grammar, ---punctuation--- and sophisticated OED language of 1760.

I strongly recommend picking up a copy, such as the Modern Library printing, which has plenty of notes and glossaries. Also, I found this link to be profoundly helpful:

However, if you find the book very enjoyable despite nearly drowning in 18th century words, as well as its lack of conventional construction, as I did, I would read the book’s sections first before using the link to clear up the occasional confusions of meaning. The wit will be lost if you flip to offside explanations too much.

I'm not even going to try to summarize most of what the book’s plot is, other than to say it takes time and effort to read. There is no question reading it will be a slow job, despite short chapters. However, I found the novel immensely entertaining and worth the effort. It is the silly intelligent wit which is the main interest. The book also shows that family life and people are not much different in love, marriage or interests despite the difference of centuries between the time the book was written and our time.

So, this is my severely abbreviated partial summary: Two of the sweetest ex-soldiers I've ever had the pleasure to meet - Corporal Trim, a companion, and Captain Uncle Toby Shandy, who are inseparable since they both retired from military service after injuries, and Toby's brother, the soon-to-be father Walter Shandy, are awaiting the birth of Tristram, Walter's son. Any conversations in which they participate tend to soon revolve around their war experiences, which are basically a thousand ways to describe the building of walls and trenches. A male midwife has joined them, Dr. Slop, who joins in the conversation while they sit in the parlor. Mrs. Shandy, Elizabeth, has refused to use Slop and is with her own choice of midwife, a woman, upstairs, in labor. Walter, meanwhile holds forth on many many many things, mostly involving opinions and ideas, such as hobby-horses, names, economics and women. Tristram, in telling of this night, also drifts to future events as well as the past, particularly stories about the local parson, Yorick. Alas, poor Yorick....

Like father, like son.
Profile Image for Amit Mishra.
234 reviews670 followers
May 27, 2019
Despite its instant popularity and its ordinary sounding title, Tristram Shandy is a novel with no clear beginning, middle and end; its narrative content is distributed across bafflingly idiosyncratic time-scheme interrupted by numerous digressions, authorial comments and interference with the printed fabric of the book.
The comically fragmented storyline is a reaction or epistolary artifice in favour of a novelistic shape that depends on the association of ideas, a realistic impression.
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