Friday, October 15, 2010

Tristram Shandy, Day Two

The narrator has told us that he was conceived " in the night betwixt the first Sunday and the first Mondayin the month of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand sevenhundred and eighteen." He has good evidence to support this claim. On November 5th, 1718, he was "brought forth into this scurvy and disastrous world of ours." Hey, it's almost his birthday. Now that we know when Tristram was born, he must tell us also how. Which means that he is now telling about the midwife, but before he gets too far into the midwife's tale, he must tell us about the parson whose wife took it upon herself to help the midwife get her training and license in midwifery, but before he tells us about how that came to pass, he must tell us about the parson's horse, who bears a great resemblance to that horse of legend, Rosinante.

I'd quote you some of it but it wouldn't really work, I don't think. The narrative moves forward and backwards in overlapping segments with promises of things to come and remembrances of things past and loads of literary allusions (the aforementioned Cervantes reference and the fact that the parson riding the old nag is named Yorick; the parson will die in a few chapters and, of course, Shandy will say "alas, poor Yorick" and there have been other Hamlet references by now). Well, I'll give you one paragraph that won't tell you a thing about the story but it might give you a small taste of this novel's flavor:

I know very well that the Hero's horse was a horse of chaste deportment, which may have given grounds for the contrary opinion: But it is as certain at the same time that Rosinante's continency (as may be demonstrated from the adventure of the Yanguesian carriers) proceeded from no bodily defect or cause whatsoever, but from the temperance and orderly current of his blood.--And let me tell you, Madam, there is a great deal of very good chastity in the world, in behalf of which you could not say more for your life.

The "Madam" here is any presumed reader. Sometimes it's "Sir" and sometimes it's "Gentlemen" and sometimes it's "Your Lordship." Shandy has no idea who's reading his autobiography, but takes no chances at alienating anyone. There is an amusing bit where he offers to sell the dedication to the highest bidder.

Anyway, I really like this book. I can see where a writer like James Branch Cabell picked up elements of his narrative style.

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