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View Diary: Books That Changed My Life — Tristram Shandy (146 comments)

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  •  'At Swim-Two-Birds' is my favorite novel. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mikidee, The Geogre, Monsieur Georges

    I'd have included it among my funniest touchstones, but too few readers would've known what I meant. Absolutely delightful sense of play, and every Celtic flavor of writing, ripe worlds of wonder.

    I certainly hadn't thought of this:

    the book's theme: as long as you run from death, you die; when you play, and allow time to go on its own way, you live.
    But I will now.

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:03:29 PM PST

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    •  More on the theme (4+ / 0-)

      "Digressions, sir, are the heart and soul of this book" the narrator says. We know about the typographical plays -- the false end paper, the page that goes "into mourning" for Yorick -- and the "plot diagram" that looks like a ball of yarn, but digression is not digression. In fact, "digression" requires a main theme, and Tristram doesn't have one.

      What is he supposed to be doing? He is supposed to be narrating his life. What, then, are these digressions but that life being lived rather than being rearranged after death the way an eulogy is.

      However, in Book III, he gets sick, and he sees Death, and so he starts running. We then get the worst travel writing ever, as Tristram never gets out of the inn. He is running all the time, because he can never get ahead of Death. Eventually, he sees Maria singing songs to her goats and playing on a flute, and he realizes . . . something.

      Walter Shandy, the "systematickal philosopher," and Toby Shandy, the hobby horseman, set two poles of field goal, and Tristram only stops "dying" when he goes back to the song, to the play. The book, simultaneously, goes from boring (travelogue) to funny again. That third book enacts the message as surely as the black page and the false endpiece had.

      [That will be $25, please.]

      People complain about dirt, but I'd like to see them make some.

      by The Geogre on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:50:28 PM PST

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      •  I'll reply tomorrow (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Monsieur Georges

        as this library computer will kick me off in 5 minutes.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 02:42:44 PM PST

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      •  But Lucy in Peanuts only charged 25 cents! (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        The Geogre, poco

        Still, in this day and age, I guess $25 is an extreme bargain.

        Well, everything you say does make sense, and seems perfectly apt as Sterne's own philosophy.

        Certainly he's giving us "life being lived rather than being rearranged after death the way an eulogy is". You could say that is his theme: giving us life in the raw moment, not prettified and pinned down for display.

        He actually does give us a lot of life, but it's mostly Toby's and his father's. From some of the background reading I did, it seems that these two men were the two main poles of Sterne's own father.

        I'd say the travel writing was boring as travel writing, but very funny as a parody of travel writing. Well, all that you say is pretty convincing - but I hardly got any of that out of it when I read it. Great books have many layers.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 02:13:53 PM PST

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        •  I was satirizing meself (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          poco

          I'm an academic.

          I was making fun of the fact that usually I teach the novel, and I don't make much money, so I was acting as if information came with a meter attached to it.

          Sterne was addicted to Swift's A Tale of a Tub, and the stylistic similarities are striking. However, the Toby/Walter split is more, I think, than simply elements of his father. Toby's hilarious insistence that his wound was "at Blenheim" (rather than in the groin) to the Widow Wadman, and his elaborate lark of military miniatures, marks out . . . something else, I think.

          In the mid-century we were starting to get those gentlemen scientists. Squirearchy was giving way to gentleman chemists and geologists and fossil hunters, and this flowering of education amidst (imperial) wealth was a new and strange thing. There was no name for it.

          Anyway, there is an interesting social history element lingering beneath the surface. Is it Arthur Cash? No. . . Melvyn New has done a lot on the medical stuff in the novel. That set off a storm of articles about midwifery vs. obstetrics in the novel: there was a growing . . . "enclosure" against folk practice in every regard as Science started getting regimented and industry took out the paternal artisans.

          People complain about dirt, but I'd like to see them make some.

          by The Geogre on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 06:06:30 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  No wonder you're making sense and sharing insight: (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            The Geogre

            you've already thought about all this stuff.

            Swift's pretty special. Haven't read A Tale of a Tub in twenty years, but I did just buy a Swift collection with it and other shorter works.

            "However, the Toby/Walter split is more, I think, than simply elements of his father"; I expect that gave Sterne the germ of it, and then he let his imagination run on in all directions at once, as it does.

            Thanks for dropping science on me.

            "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

            by Brecht on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 01:32:56 PM PST

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