Classics and the Western Canon discussion

28 views
Sterne, 'Tristram Shandy > Week 8 (4)Vol 2: 36 - 57 or (9)Vol 4: 1 - 22

Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by David (new)

David | 2696 comments (9)Vol 4: 1 - 22
Chapter 1
With all of Walter's past experience and belief's formed in his passion for philosophizing on noses, how could he have suffered more over his son's crushed nose? Is TS saying that hobby horses, or passions, can set one up for a bigger fall at times? Tristram also asks for us and refuses to tell:
But was the stranger’s nose a true nose—or was it a false one?
What do you think? Does it matter?

Chapter 2
Walter in his horizontal despair begins to stir and is moved to speak when the sun shines in his face.

Chapter 3
Toby unwittingly reminds Walter isn't being punished as bad as others have been? Walter collapses once again on the bed.

Chapter 4
The talk then turns to suffering of others through misfortune or unfair circumstances. Then Trim says:
your honour knows I have neither wife or child——I can have no sorrows in this world.
A note on that indicates:
Sterne glances at several proverbial expressions, epitomized in Bacon’s famous opening sentence to ‘Of Marriage and Single Life’: ‘He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune.’
Then Uncle Toby declares he is leaving Trim his bowling green and a pension. Why might Walter smile at the former and appear grave at the latter?

Chapter 5
More from the first person omniscient perspective. Walter wonders, to himself, what we may all wondering:
Is this a fit time, said my father to himself, to talk of PENSIONS and GRENADIERS?
Chapter 6
Walter again begins to rise from the bed in the exact same manner as before. I understood from this chapter that we all have our own "routine" of transitioning between our attitudes.

Chapter 7
Walter and Toby discuss suffering, its causes, and man's ability, with God's help, to bear it. A note here indicates:
‘The ingratitude of Israel’, Sterne condemns those who believe it ‘idle to bring in the Deity to untie the knot, when [the causes of earthquakes] can be resolved easily into natural causes’: ‘Vain unthinking mortals!—As if natural causes were any thing else in the hands of God,—but instruments which he can turn to work the purposes of his will
Chapter 8
Walter decides that despite the strength god gives us to withstand suffering that in order to counteract the evil of his son's crushed nose, he must christen the child with a name of greater good then he first intended, Tristmegistus.

Chapter 9
Walter and Toby decide a crushed nose was better than a crushed "nose".

Chapter 10 - A chapter about chapters.
TS addresses his unconventional use of chapters and poses the question:
is a man to follow rules—or rules to follow him?
How should we reconcile the statement that TS thinks this is the best chapter in the book, and that whoever reads it is busy doing nothing? Is he saying being idle and pointless is a worthy state of being?


message 2: by David (last edited Jan 07, 2020 07:41PM) (new)

David | 2696 comments Chapter 11
Walter and Toby finally reach the bottom of the stairs and Walter decides Trismegistus the greatest of all earthly beings, will be a powerful name he is now forced to give to his son to make up for the crushed nose.

Chapter 12
Walter complains that all the women in the house seem to feel over-entitled during periods of childbirth. Uncle Toby reminds Walter that childbearing is painful and it is the men who become a little powerless in its light.

Chapter 13
TS muses that at the current rate of progression in the story to this point, where he is finally just born, he will never be able to catch up in writing his story and opinions. He decides he is not going to worry about it.

Chapter 14
Susannah proves to be "the leaky vessel" Walter fears and corrupts name Trismegistus into Tristram-gistus and the curate assumes she meant Tristram. Arriving on the scene to confirm the name is correct, Walter again becomes the victim of misfortune and bad timing as his pant's button becomes undone and he has to turn away and leaves the room. TS also tells us of plans for chapters on Chamber-maids, "pishes", and button-holes".

Chapter 15
TS becomes enthusiastic for his chapters on button-holes but needs to sleep and praises sleep the rest of the chapter.

Chapter 16
At breakfast it is learned that the child has been wrongfully christened Tristram. Susannah is crying because she defends herself by saying she told the curate to name the child Tristram-gistus. Walter and Toby agree it is going to be a difficult month.

Chapter 17
Instead of throwing himself on the bed over the news of his child being named Tristram, Walter goes to the fish pond and TS wonders what it is about fish ponds that calms a person.

Chapter 18
While Toby respects Walter's feelings on the importance of names, he agrees with Trim that a man does not think on his name during a battle. What would Walter say to that?

Chapter 19
Walter returns in the middle of Uncle Toby and Trim's discussion of names and battles. It is an awkward moment for hobby-horses.

Walter's Laments he is being punished for his own or his ancestor's sins echoing Exodus 20:5: ‘for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children’. He also reveals to Toby that after the "interruption" during conception that he caused his wife to be upset by forcing her to give birth in the country instead of in town and it made the birth all the more disastrous.

Chapter 20
TS ponders accusations of recklessly riding his hobby horse, i.e., writing this book, by insulting others. A note indicates the bishop he has splashed was a bishop Warburton who liked the first installment but advised Sterne to tone down the bawdiness. Sterne kept up the level of bawdiness and the Bishop lost patience and began referring to Sterne as an "irrecoverable scoundrel". TS then announces he will insult a king in the next chapter.

Chapter 21
He insults the King of France with a little water closet humor leading to war.

Chapter 22
TS assures us he is not writing polemically, but only to make us laugh. I am interested to know what you all think about this declaration and at this time of the work. Is he sincere, is he backpedaling merely to try and cover himself, or is he sincerely backpedaling?


message 3: by Alexey (new)

Alexey | 293 comments Chapter 14
Susannah proves to be "the leaky vessel" Walter fears and corrupts name Trismegistus into Tristram-gistus and the curate assumes she meant Tristram...


The greatest intrigue, so far, was resolved so abruptly, prosaicly and straightforward, that I am always disappointed. But there is something in this.


message 4: by David (last edited Jan 09, 2020 09:50AM) (new)

David | 2696 comments Alexey wrote: "The greatest intrigue, so far, was resolved so abruptly, prosaicly and straightforward, that I am always disappointed. But there is something in this. "

I am curious. What do you mean by there is the something in this? Is it safe to assume the answer will be prosaic and straightforward?


message 5: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1605 comments I’m seeing Uncle Toby as a foil to Walter. They seem to play off each other. Walter is prone to such histrionics—falling down, pacing nervously, flinging himself on the bed, striking poses, and going on forever and ever about noses and names. Uncle Toby’s comments are more grounded—as if he is trying to reel Walter back from his endless speechifying. It’s ironic because I had initially thought it was the other way around—that Walter was the more grounded.

Also, the two remind me a bit of Don Quixote and Sancho with Walter as DQ waxing eloquent about all manner of stuff, and Uncle Toby as Sancho trying to bring him back to earth.


message 6: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1605 comments I am really enjoying Sterne's dry humor throughout. This gave me a good chuckle.

I have left Trim my bowling-green, cried my uncle Toby—My father smiled.—I have left him moreover a pension, continued my uncle Toby.—My father looked grave.

I love the parallel structure and the deadpan humor.

Also, the more I read, the more I like Uncle Toby. He seems to be such a gentle soul, sensitive soul, especially when he says, 'tis we who sink an inch lower" in response to Walter's complaint about women in the house assuming airs during childbirth.


message 7: by Alexey (new)

Alexey | 293 comments David wrote: "Alexey wrote: "The greatest intrigue, so far, was resolved so abruptly, prosaicly and straightforward, that I am always disappointed. But there is something in this. "

I am curious. What do you me..."


I mean that suddenly giving a short and plain answer to the long pondered question is in the style of TS and provides a part of its charm.


message 8: by Alexey (new)

Alexey | 293 comments Tamara wrote: "Also, the more I read, the more I like Uncle Toby. He seems to be such a gentle soul, sensitive soul, especially when he says, 'tis we who sink an inch lower" in response to Walter's complaint about women in the house assuming airs during childbirth."

So do I, I even think now that many kind characteristic Sterns gave Uncle Toby at the beginning, which initially looks like another example of irony and sarcasm, are kind indeed.


message 9: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments When you think about the auras that have grown up around characters like Thackeray's Becky Sharp or Austen's Mr. Darcey or even Eliot's Silas Marner, Uncle Toby seems to have been one of the few to garner an aura of deep likeableness.

(For fun lists of memorable fictional characters, try google. The results were both surprising and not surprising to me a few minutes ago -- and I am sure there are many other lists from various perspectives. Incidentally, I did not find Uncle Toby on the lists I looked at just now, but I have seen him mentioned kindly in a number of places since reading TS.)


message 10: by Alexey (new)

Alexey | 293 comments If 'tis wrote against any thing,—'tis wrote, an' please your worships, against the spleen!

If 'tis not a best political (philosophical, theological, etc.) position for a writer?


message 11: by Gary (last edited Jan 12, 2020 12:46PM) (new)

Gary | 213 comments Tamara wrote: " ... the two remind me a bit of Don Quixote and Sancho with Walter as DQ waxing eloquent about all manner of stuff, and Uncle Toby as Sancho trying to bring him back to earth."

"the more I read, the more I like Uncle Toby. He seems to be such a gentle soul, sensitive soul ..."


There's no doubt that Uncle Toby is the most likable of the characters we've met so far. His gentle good humor is very appealing. Nonetheless, Toby is not much of a thinker and avoids or deflects any sort of disagreement or even the slightest controversy. In this I think he is different from Sancho who doesn't shy away from disagreeing with Don Quixote even at the risk of incurring his master's wrath. If Walter, or anyone, addresses Toby with anything disagreeable or troublesome, he deflects - often by singing Lillibullero.

It's been suggested in other posts that Uncle Toby may be a model of good morals. In the limited sense of don't-do-this and don't-do-that, it may be so. But I just don't see Toby as a paradigm of a whole moral life.


message 12: by Gary (last edited Jan 12, 2020 12:44PM) (new)

Gary | 213 comments We get some of Tristram's serious opinions in Chapter 17:
" ...we live amongst riddles and mysteries-the most obvious things, which come in our way, have dark sides, which the quickest sight cannot penetrate into; and even the clearest and most exalted understandings amongst us find ourselves puzzled and at a loss in almost every cranny of nature's works ... " This would seem as true today as it was then.


message 13: by David (new)

David | 2696 comments Gary, Nice find. In searching for that passage I also found it in the introduction by the editor, Melvyn New, in my edition. While it may seem true enough today, It is suggested the passage may not be as postmodern as it may appear to the modern reader:
Perhaps no other passage in Tristram Shandy has been more often invoked by critics over the past twenty-five years, as they have applied various postmodern theories of indeterminacy to Sterne’s eighteenth-century novel. The typical argument moves in this direction: Fielding and Richardson lived in an essentialist world of certainty, dominated by Christian absolutes; Sterne, on the other hand, lived in the modern solipsistic world where there are no absolutes, where all value is created by the human being. His world is, in short, a confusion of ‘riddles and mysteries’, akin to our own indeterminate and undecidable universe. What then, the annotator may ask, are we to make of the fact that the ‘riddles and mysteries’ passage very closely echoes two of Sterne’s sermons, in both of which the context clearly suggests Sterne is restating a commonplace Christian belief in the limitations of the postlapsarian human mind? One year after the Florida Notes appeared, it was pointed out that a passage in Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (IV.3.22) underlies all three passages; and more recently, while annotating the sermons, I located Sterne’s actual verbatim source in the theologian John Norris of Bemerton, a passage in his Practical Discourses upon Several Divine Subjects, Volume Two (1691). In each instance, from Locke to Norris to Sterne, the context of the passage is not postmodern angst, but 1 Corinthians 13:12: ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly: but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.’ Perhaps there has never been a period in history in which the human mind has not confronted the limitations of knowledge; perhaps – as twentieth-century intellectuals – we are unique only in believing we are unique.

Sterne, Laurence. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Penguin Classics) (p. xxxvii). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.



message 14: by David (new)

David | 2696 comments An additonal notation to my edition reads:
‘WE live in a world beset on all sides with mysteries and riddles …’ Sterne’s wording for this passage has roots in two sermons, 44, ‘The ways of Providence justified to man’: ‘Nay, have not the most obvious things that come in our way dark sides, which the quickest sight cannot penetrate into; and do not the clearest and most exalted understandings find themselves puzzled, and at a loss, in every particle of matter?’; and 19, ‘Felix’s behaviour towards Paul’: ‘That in many dark and abstracted questions of mere speculation, we should err——is not strange: we live amongst mysteries and riddles, and almost every thing which comes in our way, in one light or other, may be said to baffle our understandings.’ The source for both passages is Norris, Practical Discourses … Volume Two (1691): ‘We live among Mysteries and Riddles, and there is not one thing that comes in at our Senses, but what baffles our Understandings; but though (as the Wise Man [Wisdom 9:16] complains,) hardly do we guess aright at the things that are upon Earth, and with labour do we find the things that are before us …’ Behind Norris and Sterne is Locke, Essay, IV.3.22: ‘He that knows anything, knows this in the first place, that he need not seek long for Instances of his Ignorance. The meanest, and most obvious Things that come in our way, have dark sides, that the quickest Sight cannot penetrate into. The clearest, and most enlarged Understandings of thinking Men find themselves puzzled, and at a loss, in every Particle of Matter.’



message 15: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1605 comments Gary wrote: "Nonetheless, Toby is not much of a thinker and avoids or deflects any sort of disagreement or even the slightest controversy. In this I think he is different from Sancho who doesn't shy away from disagreeing with Don Quixote even at the risk of incurring his master's wrath. If Walter, or anyone, addresses Toby with anything disagreeable or troublesome, he deflects - often by singing Lillibullero..."

Good point, Gary. I think there are times when he disagrees with Walter. But more often than not, he deflects. He doesn't like confrontation and avoids it by bursting into song.


message 16: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments Tamara wrote: "He doesn't like confrontation and avoids it by bursting into song...."

It seems to me that often Toby is wise enough to realize his way of saying (humming) "be aware of what you are saying" is as likely to be effective as Walter-style argumentation.


message 17: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1732 comments There's my new motto--"We live amongst mysteries and riddles."


message 18: by Alexey (new)

Alexey | 293 comments Roger wrote: "There's my new motto--"We live amongst mysteries and riddles.""

Good choice!


message 19: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments Gary wrote: "If Walter, or anyone, addresses Toby with anything disagreeable or troublesome, he deflects - often by singing Lillibullero..."

I did notice this passage back in Book 2, Chapter 11:

"—'I know not how it happens—cried my father,—but it seems an age.'

"—'Tis owing entirely,' quoth my uncle Toby, 'to the succession of our ideas.'

"My father, who had an itch, in common with all philosophers, of reasoning upon every thing which happened, and accounting for it too—proposed infinite pleasure to himself in this, of the succession of ideas, and had not the least apprehension of having it snatch'd out of his hands by my uncle Toby, who (honest man!) generally took every thing as it happened;—"

Sterne, Laurence. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (p. 123). Kindle Edition.

Walter's seeming frustration that his brother seems to have thought through and captured the crux of the matter so rapidly?


message 20: by Susan (new)

Susan | 484 comments David wrote:

Then Uncle Toby declares he is leaving Trim his bowling green and a pension. Why might Walter smile at the former and appear grave at the latter? (Chapter 4)

A reference to the bowling green where Uncle Toby and Trim mocked up fortifications might provoke a smile due to the reference to their hobbyhorse which Walter doesn’t take seriously. I wonder if the looking grave at the pension idea is because Walter thinks Uncle Toby is being overly generous with his promises.


message 21: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 1605 comments Susan wrote: "I wonder if the looking grave at the pension idea is because Walter thinks Uncle Toby is being overly generous with his promises.."

And with his money?


message 22: by David (new)

David | 2696 comments Maybe Walter is afraid of starting another legacy pension obligating the family and its heirs to pay until Trim dies, like he his grandmother's pension?


message 23: by Susan (new)

Susan | 484 comments David wrote: "Maybe Walter is afraid of starting another legacy pension obligating the family and its heirs to pay until Trim dies, like he his grandmother's pension?"

This would make sense. I think Tamara’s right on the money, so to speak ;)


message 24: by Susan (new)

Susan | 484 comments Lily wrote: "Gary wrote: "If Walter, or anyone, addresses Toby with anything disagreeable or troublesome, he deflects - often by singing Lillibullero..."

I did notice this passage back in Book 2, Chapter 11:

..."


I guess this passage shows that Uncle Toby has the ability to philosophize like his brother but chooses not to. If he engaged with Walter in his speculations, how different their conversations would be!


back to top