Ross, Ian Campbell. “Introduction.” The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Laurence Sterne. New York: Oxford UP, 1983. vii-xxiv.
â€œThis is a humorous performance, of which we are unable to convey an distinct ideas to our readers.â€œ – 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)
â€œThe 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 Ã¢â‚¬ËœLife 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.â€œ (xvi)
â€œdigressive and progressive, Ã¢â‚¬Ëœand’, he says, Ã¢â‚¬Ëœat 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.
â€œThe failure of language in its primary function as a means of communication is certainly a major theme of Tristram Shandy. Ã¢â‚¬ËœWell 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.â€œ (xix)
everything is to â€œensure that the reader recognizes the artificiality of the means the realistic novelist uses to achieve his end.â€œ (xix)