|William Hogarth (1697 to 1764) is a famous English artist now remembered for his engravings, Sterne commissioned Hogarth to do a set of images for the first editions of the several volumes of Tristram Shandy as they were published in the 18th century.|
Tristram Shandy (1767)
by Laurence Sterne
I first wrote about Tristram Shandy in an early 1001 Books Project review from 2008, where I discussed it in terms of the 2005 film, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. In retrospect, this was an error, first because nobody gives a fuck about Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden, the stars of that film. On the other hand, the importance of this book in mind as being one of the top 10 most important novels ever only increases with time. I've twice revisited the original review in an attempt to give this work a more fitting description on this blog.
|Part of the playfulness of the original edition of Tristram Shandy can be seen in the text itself, as is the case here on pages 146 and 147 of Volume 6, where the reader is invited, in the facing page, here the reader is invited to make a sketch of the Widow Wdaman.|
|The so-called "marbled" page came at page 169 of volume 3 of one of the original editions of Tristram Shandy.|
Perhaps the tone of the above two paragraphs suggests some of the rabbit holes that dog any interpretation of Tristram Shandy. I will say that although it took me six + months to actually finish it, this is one of those "classic" novels that can actually inform your understanding of contemporary life- not to mention literature, and as such it is worth the investment of time & energy.
Returning to this review some six years later, I feel compelled to include a summary of the story. I've included a summary from the website "Sparknotes" on the theory that it is a well written summary:
There are, nevertheless, two clearly discernible narrative lines in the book.
The second major plot consists of the fortunes of Tristram's Uncle Toby. Most of the details of this story are concentrated in the final third of the novel, although they are alluded to and developed in piecemeal fashion from the very beginning. Toby receives a wound to the groin while in the army, and it takes him four years to recover. When he is able to move around again, he retires to the country with the idea of constructing a scaled replica of the scene of the battle in which he was injured. He becomes obsessed with re-enacting those battles, as well as with the whole history and theory of fortification and defense. The Peace of Utrecht slows him down in these "hobby-horsical" activities, however, and it is during this lull that he falls under the spell of Widow Wadman. The novel ends with the long-promised account of their unfortunate affair. (Sparknotes)
The key to understanding Tristram Shandy's long term appeal is understanding the way author Laurence Sterne anticipates modernist technique, but the quality that makes it readable for a larger audience is the humor. The humor is centered in the Uncle Toby, a guy who probably had his junk shot off fighting Napoleon and after becomes obsessed with re-enactments of that same battle. I would say that the chances of any reader who doesn't "get" the humor of Uncle Toby is a long shot to finish reading Tristram Shandy.