Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tristram Shandy, Day Thirty-One

Alas, the war has ended with the Treaty of Utrecht, and Uncle Toby has no more to do! Almost all of his energies--since retiring from the army because of his wound had in Flanders--have gone into (and come from, truth to tell) recreating all of the battles fought by the English army, in miniature on his bowling green past the kitchen garden, as near to in real-time as he could manage, taking forts and cities one by one as guided by the daily mails and newspapers. But no more, for there is peace in Europe, and a heaviness has settled over Uncle Toby's heart and he grows listless and disinterested in life. There is a malaise, an overcast, and also a lot of free time. Into that free time, into that heart yearning for something, comes love, in the form of the Widow Wadman.

But we must wait a bit to come to that, for Book VI ends and Book VII opens with young Tristram taking a trip across France, and for 25 pages we are given a travelogue of all the French cities between Calais and Paris, at breakneck speed, and it is only after 25 or so pages of Tristram's travel journal do we discover that he is still a boy of five or so, and is accompanied on this trip by his father, his Uncle Toby, and Toby's manservant Trim. The narrator has yet again, as he puts it, "begun some distance from his subject."

I also wish to mention that Chapter XXXVIII of Book VI contains, just after telling us that Toby will marry the Widow Wadman, a blank page upon which the reader is urged to write his own description of the Widow. The narrator assures us that she is the most desirable woman the reader has ever seen or imagined, and is wise enough to know that he cannot draw one woman desirable to all readers so he lets each reader fill the imagined shape of the Widow Wadman with his own desires. Which is quite clever.


  1. A 25-page travelogue and a blank page? Sounds odd. Haha. My current manuscript contains more blank pages than travelogues. Perhaps I'm immensely clever. "I assure you, readers, this is the best novel you've ever read (and written!)."

  2. I wish I could remember what the story was, but we read a piece in a fiction writing class and then our prof asked us to describe on paper the object of the MC's love.

    We all did.

    And all our descriptions were different.

    And we werre all quite confused. Turned out, the author had mainly used that kind of arch implication, but a little more subtly, so we didn't even really realize that we were filling in as many details as we were.

    "Do you still think you need to puke out three paragraphs of description of your characters?" he asked gruffly.

    "Yes," I said, because I was then as now a stubborn jerk.

  3. That's rather interesting, Nevets. I've been thinking a lot more about letting readers meet me half way; not only is it less work at times, but it also allows you to cut out a lot of mumbo jumbo (pardon my Italian).

  4. Love the idea of the blank page, and molding the Widow the the reader's mental image of beauty.

    Plus, it's like an 18th century version of Mad Libs.