Essay Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy

Essay Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy

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Highlighting the reader as a character in Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy may seem trivial considering the clear use of fictional readers within the text ("sir", "madam", "lord", et al.); however, the manner in which Stern renders the reader a character, and creates the illusion of in-text participation, is far more profound than sporadic discourse with these aforementioned sirs and madams. This essay, through analysis of Volumes 1 and 2 of Tristram Shandy (with latter volumes in mind), seeks to illume Sterne's methods of subverting the novelistic form, interacting with the reader, and engaging with the theme of time in relation to the question of the reader as a character in Tristram Shandy.
Comparing Newton's Third Law to Tristram Shandy's excursive style, Judith Hawley wrote: "For every attempt to make himself [Tristram] go in a straight line, there is an opposing impulse to deviate"1. This Newtonian peculiarity of Tristram's narration also encapsulated the book's criticism, as for every laudatory reviewer there seemed to be a censorious critic, who found the book's salacious japery unbecoming of a cleric. However, what many abstemious critics of Tristram Shandy missed, was Sterne's pasquinade of novelistic forms, which helped fashion the circumstances for the reader to become a character in Tristram Shandy through removal of the detachment between reader and narrator. Mary S. Wagoner's comment, "...main business ostensibly, would be the account of Uncle Toby, but evidence points rather to its being the conversation between Tristram and the reader"2, substantiates Sterne's success in making the reader's relationship with the narrator paramount.
A key element in removing the estrangement between narrator and reader in Trist...


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...ialogue - Essays by and in response to Douglas Jefferson, ed. Janet Clare and Veronica O'Mara (University College Press, 2006).

Keymer, Thomas, Sterne, the Moderns and the Novel, (Oxford University Press, 2002).

New, Melvyn, "Sterne and the Modernist Movement", in The Cambridge Companion to Laurence Sterne, ed. Thomas Keymer (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Ross, Ian Campbell, Laurence Sterne - A Life, (Oxford University Press, 2001).

Sterne, Laurence, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, ed. Ian Campbell Ross (Oxford World's Classics, 2009, Oxford University Press).

Wagoner, Mary S., "Satire of the Reader in Tristram Shandy", in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol.8, No.3 (Autumn 1966; University of Texas Press), pp.337-344.

Watt, Ian, The Rise of the Novel: Defoe, Richardson and Fielding, (Chatto & Windus London, 1974).

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