Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tristram Shandy, Day Seven

More advice from our humble narrator about writing:

Writing, when properly managed (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation. As no one, who knows what he is about in good company, would venture to talk all, so no author, who understands the just boundaries of decorum and good-breeding, would presume to think all. 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.

For my own part, I am etrnally paying him compliments of this kind, and do all that lies in my power to keep his imagination as busy as my own.

What's happening in the book: Mrs. Shandy has gone into labor, ready to finally give birth to baby Tristram. The laying in is at the rural estate of Shandy Hall at the insistence of Tristram’s father. Mrs. Shandy--during the previous year--took an expensive trip up to London under the pretense that she was pregnant, and a clause in the marriage contract states that Mr. Shandy need only pay for one such trip to London per pregnancy, real or imagined. Mr. Shandy has invoked this clause and Tristram will be born in the country, 200 miles from the physicians of London. Mr. Shandy is hoping he won’t regret this decision. The midwife has been sent for, but before her arrival Dr. Slop, the man-midwife, has arrived for a casual chat and is without his bag and instruments. Mr. Shandy’s manservant has been sent to Dr. Slop’s house to fetch the bag. Tristram’s father and Uncle Toby (who lives just up the road) have been speculating as to whether Mrs. Shandy will allow Dr. Slop to deliver her child, or if she will insist upon employing the midwife. The women of the household are upstairs attending to the birth while the men, downstairs in the drawing room, are smoking pipes and discussing wind-powered carriages, among other things. This is at about page 100. Tristram will not actually be born until about page 300, because there are plenty of things that our narrator must relate before we can get to that happy moment (where, I believe, we will learn also how he came to be called “Tristram,” a name his father despises above all other names).


  1. I envy the ability to sound conceited with just the suggestion of... I want to say self-deprecation, but that's not quite the right word... and I'm not sure what the right word is... and that's why I can't write like that. lol

  2. I've never read Tristram Shandy. I may have to give it a read sometime.

  3. Nevets: Laurence was an Anglican priest, so I think the humble smugness came naturally to him. I also think that he wrote "Tristram Shandy" primarily to amuse himself, at least the first two books before it became wildly popular.

    Lois: I have no idea why this book has a reputation for being difficult. It's straightforward prose and very funny social commentary. Does the fact that the narrator directly addresses the reader make it difficult? Does the narrator's commentary on his own narrative techniques make it difficult? I really don't get it.