Tristram shandy essay questions

In addition to all of the characters of the past, Tristram the author has various friends in the present--Eugenius and Jenny in particular. What is their role in the novel? In fact, all of Volume VII takes place in the present. What is the relationship between the novel's present and its past?

Tristram Shandy Review and Discussion

In fact, the present time is emphasized to such a degree that one of the major subjects of the novel seems to be the writing of the novel. But Tristram asserts that the writing of an autobiography can never be completed. Is this a "loop" which Tristram has become caught in by accident? Is it a comic game, a whimsical entertainment? Or does it have deeper implications about both life and authorship? Writing, Tristram tells us, is a kind of conversation in which we readers play an important part.

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What instructions does he give us for doing so? And what is the relationship between us "real" readers and the various fictional one such as "Madame" of I,xx to whom Tristram refers? How do we know when to take his instructions seriously? Some of these instructions are never articulated, and one seems to be that any language that can even remotely be construed as dirty ought to be read that way though in doing so, we reveal our own dirty minds, as distinct from the "innocent" mind of Tristram.

Tristram keeps insisting that his intentions are pure and that his readers' understandings are corrupt. Tristram Shandy is a supreme instance of comedy, both in what it tells and how it tells it. Tristram himself refers to the novel as a "bagatelle. Is there a distinction between Shandyism and comedy?

The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy English Literature Essay

What concepts of comedy underlie the novel? What is the relationship between the novel's comedy and its various themes whatever they are? Many of Tristram's characters are incomplete or distorted, defined, in any event, by their hobbyhorses. What does Tristram mean by "hobbyhorses"? Is it a mock theory or a serious idea that governs his treatment of characters? Does Tristram have a theory of characterization or psychology?

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne

What is the relationship between characterization in the novel and the author's view of the nature of human nature? In fact, the novel is filled with religious references--many comic but some serious. Do these references add up to anything? Does the novel have any genuinely religious significance? Is the fact that Sterne and Yorick were clergyman only accidental? Before Trim reads Yorick's sermon, Tristram spends two pages describing his posture.


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An even more significant description of gesture is the incident of Trim dropping his hat at the beginning of Volume V. But Tristram dwells upon such gestural details throughout. What is the importance of posture or position or gesture in the novel? As with typography, Sterne or Tristram plays large games with structure for charts thereof, see VI, xl and with such structural units as volumes and chapters, even to such aberrations as missing pages, prefaces inserted into the middle of volumes, rearrangement of the order of chapters, sudden shifts and terminations of material.


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  • Are there natural units in the novel that group events in meaningful ways? How does Tristram represent his extraordinarily digressive mode of narration? How can we account for it? In the eighteenth century, publications were produced to give keys or indices to the tears in Tristram Shandy. In addition to being an extraordinarily comic novel, Tristram Shandy is in some senses a highly sentimental one. What is Tristram's attitude towards such sentiment?

    Thirdly, another of his father's theories was that a person's name exerted enormous influence over that person's nature and fortunes, with the worst possible name being Tristram. In view of the previous accidents, Tristram's father decreed that the boy would receive an especially auspicious name, Trismegistus. Susannah mangled the name in conveying it to the curate, and the child was christened Tristram. According to his father's theory, his name, being a conflation of "Trismegistus" after the esoteric mystic Hermes Trismegistus and " Tristan " whose connotation bore the influence through folk etymology of Latin tristis , "sorrowful" , doomed him to a life of woe and cursed him with the inability to comprehend the causes of his misfortune.

    Finally, as a toddler, Tristram suffered an accidental circumcision when Susannah let a window sash fall as he urinated out of the window because his chamberpot was missing. Sterne's presence inside the narrative changed the course of traditional novelistic interpretations as his narrative structure digresses through many jumbled and fragmentary events into a non-traditional, dual overlapping plot. These digressive methods reflect his inability to simply explain each event as it occurs, as he frequently interrupts these events with commentary about how the reader should understand and follow each event.

    He relies heavily on his reader's close involvement to the text and their interpretations of the non-traditional plot.


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    • Tristram's presence inside of the narrative as the narrator engages the imagination and his use of visual strategies, such as the marbled and blank pages, reflects the importance of the reader's participation in the novel. Sterne incorporated into Tristram Shandy many passages taken almost word for word from Robert Burton 's The Anatomy of Melancholy , Francis Bacon 's Of Death , Rabelais and many more, and rearranged them to serve the new meaning intended in Tristram Shandy.

      The first to note them was physician and poet John Ferriar , who did not see them negatively and commented: [4] [5].

      Essay Topic 1

      If [the reader's] opinion of Sterne's learning and originality be lessened by the perusal, he must, at least, admire the dexterity and the good taste with which he has incorporated in his work so many passages, written with very different views by their respective authors. Victorian critics of the 19th century, who were hostile to Sterne for the alleged obscenity of his prose, used Ferriar's findings to defame Sterne, and claimed that he was artistically dishonest, and almost unanimously accused him of mindless plagiarism. One passage Sterne incorporated pertains to "the length and goodness of the nose".

      Sterne was no friend of gravitas , a quality which excited his disgust. Tristram Shandy gives a ludicrous turn to solemn passages from respected authors that it incorporates, as well as to the consolatio literary genre. Among the subjects of such ridicule were some of the opinions contained in Robert Burton 's The Anatomy of Melancholy , a book that mentions sermons as the most respectable type of writing, and one that was favoured by the learned.

      Burton's attitude was to try to prove indisputable facts by weighty quotations. His book consists mostly of a collection of the opinions of a multitude of writers he modestly refrains from adding his own divided into quaint and old-fashioned categories. It discusses everything, from the doctrines of religion to military discipline, from inland navigation to the morality of dancing schools. Much of the singularity of Tristram Shandy's characters is drawn from Burton. Burton indulges himself in a Utopian sketch of a perfect government in his introductory address to the reader, and this forms the basis of the notions of Tristram Shandy on the subject.

      And Sterne parodies Burton's use of weighty quotations. In Chapter 3, Volume 5, Sterne parodies the genre of consolatio , mixing and reworking passages from three "widely separated sections" of Burton's Anatomy , including a parody of Burton's "grave and sober account" of Cicero 's grief for the death of his daughter Tullia. His text is filled with allusions and references to the leading thinkers and writers of the 17th and 18th centuries.

      Pope and Swift were major influences on Sterne and Tristram Shandy.

      Additional information

      Satires of Pope and Swift formed much of the humour of Tristram Shandy , but Swift's sermons and Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding also contributed ideas and frameworks Sterne explored throughout the novel. Other major influences are Cervantes , and Montaigne 's Essays , as well as the significant inter-textual debt to The Anatomy of Melancholy , [4] Swift's Battle of the Books , and the Scriblerian collaborative work, The Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus. The shade of Cervantes is present throughout Sterne's novel.

      hackmisselumni.cf The frequent references to Rocinante , the character of Uncle Toby who resembles Don Quixote in many ways and Sterne's own description of his characters' " Cervantic humour", along with the genre-defying structure of Tristram Shandy , which owes much to the second part of Cervantes' novel, all demonstrate the influence of Cervantes.

      The novel also makes use of John Locke 's theories of empiricism , or the way we assemble what we know of ourselves and our world from the "association of ideas" that come to us from our five senses. Sterne is by turns respectful and satirical of Locke's theories, using the association of ideas to construct characters' " hobby-horses ", or whimsical obsessions, that both order and disorder their lives in different ways. Sterne borrows from and argues against Locke's language theories on the imprecision and arbitrariness of words and usage , and consequently spends much time discussing the very words he uses in his own narrative—with "digressions, gestures, piling up of apparent trivia in the effort to get at the truth".

      Some of Sterne's contemporaries did not hold the novel in high esteem, but its bawdy humour was popular with London society. Through time, it has come to be seen as one of the greatest comic novels in English. Brockhaus offering to translate it into German an offer which Brockhaus rejected.

      Samuel Johnson in commented, "Nothing odd will do long. Tristram Shandy did not last. Tristram Shandy has also been seen by formalists and other literary critics as a forerunner of many narrative devices and styles used by modernist and postmodernist authors such as James Joyce , Virginia Woolf , Carlos Fuentes , Milan Kundera and Salman Rushdie.