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The reason behind the hobby-horse.

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Patty Brown ENL 4230 Dr. Cowlishaw August 3, 2003 The Reason Behind the Hobby-Horse Literature of the Eighteenth Century is characterized by reason, moderation, good taste and simplicity. In addition, the ideals of impartial investigation and scientific experimentation were influential in the development of clear and simple prose as an instrument of rational communication. This dominant and persistent faith in a systemic approach to life, however, does not apply to Laurence Sterne's novel, Tristram Shandy. Sterne, through his digressive narrative style and cast of solipsistic characters, satirizes the scientific and philosophical opinions of his time that rational discourse is the only means by which human communication can exist. The story itself, written as a fictitious autobiography, is of secondary importance to how it is told. Where traditionally novelists construct their details to achieve a consistent verisimilitude, Sterne's aim is toward coherent disorder. Tristram Shandy deviates from the linear nature of traditional discourse by allowing digressions to obtrude themselves into the novel as naturally as it does into one's mind. In his "chapter upon chapters," Tristram addresses the unorthodox style in which his novel is being constructed by declaring, "is a man to follow rules-----------or rules to follow him?" ...read more.


Tristram exploits Locke's serious concern over the potential for miscommunication as an opportunity for wit. When Dr. Slop must construct a bridge in order to repair Tristram's crushed nose, an unfortunate result from the use of forceps during delivery, Uncle Toby "took it instantly for granted that Dr Slop was making a model of the marquis d'Hopital's bridge" (155). In volume Five, Tristram wanders off onto the subject of whiskers. Here, he not only deviates from rational discourse but also introduces sexual innuendo, referring to whiskers as "a pair," and "a pile." The Lady Baussiere commands her page, "Take hold of my whiskers." Tristram explains that there are trains of ideas "we see, spell, and put together without a dictionary," and as a result, "'twas plain to the whole court the word was ruined" (244). In the final volume of the novel, Uncle Toby, having suffered a wound to the groin during battle, informs the Widow Wadman he will allow her to view and touch the place in which he received his wound. He then sends for the map and places her finger upon the location. Tristram acknowledges, "it shews what little knowledge is got by mere words" (440). ...read more.


However, when the audience chooses to abandon their preconceived notions on literature, language, time and science, they can embrace the spirit of true "shandyism" and relate to Tristram within an individualistic non-rational domain. Tristram's novel is not unlike his family whom he describes as follows: Though in one sense, our family was certainly a simple machine, as it consisted of a few wheels; yet there was thus much to be said for it, that these wheels were set in motion by so many different springs, and acted one upon the other from such a variety of strange principles and impulses,- that though it was a simple machine, it had all the honor and advantages of a complex one,- and a number of as odd movements within it, as ever were beheld in the inside of a Dutch silk-mill. (251) Through writing Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne has effectively and hysterically destroyed the straight and narrow walls that imprisoned the individualistic spirit of Eighteenth Century literature. Tristram Shandy speaks up in dissent of obsessive rationalism, advocates for tolerance and rebels against the system. He proves that Bawdiness can co-exist with morality, reason should be more reasonable, and a balance between the head and the heart can be found without prescribing to a "systematickal" approach. 1 Brown ...read more.

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