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An analysis of Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

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An analysis of Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman Course: Anglo-Irish Prose Fiction Tutor: Hartvig Gabriella Written by: Dora Mosonyi 5th year English major In this essay my aim is to demonstrate how the author parodies the different narrative techniques, how he uses the "time-shift" device, how he introduces the relationship between the narrator and the reader, how he addresses the reader and how he makes use of the "hobby-horses". For an introduction I would like to mention some aspects of the novel and its reception. Sterne is best known for his novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, for which he became famous not only in England, but throughout Europe as well. Sterne wrote Tristram Shandy between 1759 and 1767. It was published in nine volumes, the first two appearing in 1760, and seven others following over the next ten years. According to a literary webpage it was not always thought as a masterpiece by other writers such as Samuel Johnson who said in a critique from 1776 that "nothing odd will do long. Tristram Shandy did not last"; but in opposition to that European critics such as Voltaire and later Goethe praised the book, "clearly superior". (www.sparknotes.com/lit/sterne). "The novel may have been for Sterne and his contemporaries an excitingly new form, but Sterne manages to bring home to the reader what a novel could not do as well as what it could". (Ricks,15). According to Andrew Sanders this novel is: ..." the one that is freest of insistent linearity, the one that makes the most daring bid to escape from the models established by the epic or by history. It glances back to the anecdotal learning of Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, to the bawdy ebullience of Rabelais, and to the experimental games of Swift and the Scriblerians, but it is ultimately an unprecedented, and still unrivalled, experiment with form". ...read more.


is but a different name for a conversation (...)" (T.S., 127, also qtd. by Ben-hellal). This statement will determine his writing all the way through the book. Tristram's speech defines the continuous dialogue between narrator and reader. In the above example the reader is addressed in an informal and communicative way. Tristram tries to lure the reader from the beginning of the novel and tries to get as much of his attention as he can, which means that the reader is "brought on the stage to become the true character of the book" (Ben-hellal, 1). In the opening chapter of the book, Tristram addresses the reader as the following: "___ Believe me good folks, this is not so inconsiderable a thing as many of you may think it (...)" (T.S, 36, also qtd. by Ben-hellal). In this quotation, the narrator attempts to catch the attention of his reader to point out his understanding of the sad circumstances of his destiny. The hero's life and his adventures are presented to the reader in order to get to know him. The narrator manages to establish the first contact. "The appellation "good folks" is usually indicative of the distance which initially separates the actor from his spectators. (Ben-hellal, 2). Three chapters later this distance lessens: "I know there are readers in the world, as well as many other good people in it, who are readers at all, __ who find themselves ill at ease, unless they are let into the whole secret from first to last, of every thing which concerns you". ( T.S, 37, also qtd. by Ben-hellal, 2). Ben-hellal states that Tristram invites different kinds of people, occasional readers or literature addicts to try to deal with the unfolding of the narrative. ...read more.


(www.sparknotes.com/lit/sterne) In an article about the idea of the hobby-horse, the writer, namely Helen Ostovich, deals with the reader-relationship between the narrator and a female reader, Madam. Tristram usually treats Sir ___ his male reader ___with casual indifference, and showers his mighty or fashionable readers , whether secular or clerical __ your worships and your reverences __ with genial contempt. He lumps the male readers together with other good, unlearned folks in his conception of the collective reader as recalcitrant hobby-horse". (Ostovich, 156) The female reader represents a special kind of hobby-horse to Tristram. Madam is in comparison with the Spanish horse, Rosinante. "She is, like Rosinante, 'the HERO's horse ... a horse of chaste deportment, which may have given grounds for a contrary opinion (...) __ 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 of your life". (TS, 47-48; also qtd. by Ostovich, 156) According to Ostovich, this quotation suggests that the horse's physical appearance and the rider's imagination are related. "Man and hobby-horse are, in Tristram's opinion, are similar to body and soul: "long journeys and much friction" create electric charges between the two that redefine both, so that ultimately "a clear description of the nature of the one ... may form a pretty exact notion of the genius and character of the other". (T.S, 99; also qtd. by Ostovich, 156) By getting on a horse and riding it well means a good experience. This happens in the case of the writer; if he writes with pleasure, the reader will bear him so the experience provides its own answers. (Ostovich, 156) To conclude my analysis of Tristram Shandy, one can say that this novel is not a conventional one due to its most noticeable characteristics; its time-scheme and its discursive style. ...read more.

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