Tristram Shandy: by Laurence Sterne - Summary and Analysis

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      The Life and opinions of Tristram Shandy (1760-1767) by Laurence Sterne is of Considerable importance in the history of fiction, for it showed how flexible the novel was. Sterne threw to the winds the well-made plot. Tristram Shandy had no plot, no heroine and no action; it obeys no other law than that of caprice and random association.

      Mr. Shandy, a retired Turkey merchant, spends his time with his books and his brother Toley. Shandy is a Quixote, but his adventures occur in the world of ideas. The brothers are perfect foils and in each the comedy of personality is played out to the full. The novel is a mixture of unconnected incidents, scraps of odd learning, fancies, humour and pathos. He owes his rank as a novelist of the wonderful power of his character drawing in the elder Shandy and his wife, Corporal Trim and uncle Toby.

The Life and opinions of Tristram Shandy (1760-1767) by Laurence Sterne
Tristram Shandy

Critical Analysis
      Into Tristram Shandy Sterne poured the oddest of inventions, paradoxes, sallies, irrelevancies and reflections. Even more peculiar than the theme was the form of the novel. Never did a book owe so much to the material dress of thought. Everything added to the confusion in a book which concealed its preface at the end of the third volume. Blank pages pretended to be chapters. Lines went across the page like cabalistic designs. A chapter might consist of five sentences or only one. Others of more normal length ended in a delirium of asterisks.

      The book was denounced by Dr. Johnson and Goldsmith. Richardson saw little in it but "unaccountable wildness, whimsical incoherences and uncommon indecencies" Victorian critics were also repelled by the wanton indelicacy of the book. Some saw in it insufferable buffoonery. But to the modern readers the book is important as anticipating the stream of consciousness technique in the novel. Brought upon the impressionism of Virginia Woolf and the massive perversity of Joyce's Fimnegans Wake, the spirit of Tristram Shandy is altogether congenial for its puckish humour and individual charm.

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