Ross, Introduction to Tristram Shandy

Ross, Ian Campbell. “Introduction.” The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Laurence Sterne. New York: Oxford UP, 1983. vii-xxiv.

“This is a humorous performance, of which we are unable to convey an distinct ideas to our readers.“ – London Critical Review on Tristram Shandy, p. viii

Influences on Tristram Shandy: Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, Swift’s Tale of a Tub (xv)

“The oddity of Tristram Shandy, however, lies not primarily in what is said, but in how it is said. Tristram himself is an early example of a figure now familiar in fiction – the hero as writer….Having decided to write his ‘Life and Opinions’, Tristram must first decide how he may do this most truthfully – that is, without falsifying his experiences. He quickly recognizes two basic and irresolvable contradictions. First, autobiography implies a linear narrative but Tristram’s awareness of his experience is not linear. Secondly, Tristram discovers that the medium he must use – language – inevitably falsifies that experience anyway. In the hero’s attempts to resolve these contradictions lies Tristram Shandy‘s greatest oddness.“ (xvi)

“digressive and progressive, ‘and’, he says, ‘at the same time’. (xvii)

As I read this introduction, I see that Richardson didn’t so much care for this work, and it reminds me of the modern day Johnathan Franzen’s disdain for Gass.

“The failure of language in its primary function as a means of communication is certainly a major theme of Tristram Shandy. ‘Well might Locke write a chapter on the imperfections of words,’ exclaims Tristram, and the panoply of black pages, blank pages, missing chapters, asterisks and dashes, as much as his fondness for aposiopesis – the breaking-off of a sentence, leaving its implied conclusion unspoken – suggest Sterne’s own belief that communication takes place more truly through gesture and sympathetic identification than through words.“ (xix)

everything is to “ensure that the reader recognizes the artificiality of the means the realistic novelist uses to achieve his end.“ (xix)

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