Tristram Shandy




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11 responses to “Tristram Shandy

  1. Chapters XII – XIX
    Much talk of getting the forceps out of the bag, cutting thumbs, crushing knuckles et al, and then of TIME and ETERNITY.

  2. Chapters XX – XXIII
    The narrator’s future father falls asleep…
    “As for my uncle Toby, his smoke-jack had not made a dozen revolutions, before he fell asleep also.—Peace be with them both!—Dr. Slop is engaged with the midwife and my mother above stairs.—Trim is busy in turning an old pair of jack-boots into a couple of mortars, to be employed in the siege of Messina next summer—and is this instant boring the touch-holes with the point of a hot poker.—All my heroes are off my hands;—’tis the first time I have had a moment to spare—and I’ll make use of it, and write my preface.”
    It seems significant that characters being busy elsewhere or asleep now gives the chance for the ultimate kadath or ohm resistor to be employed by the unborn narrator – and we groomed readers are now regaled with the AUTHOR’S PREFACE regarding Locke’s view of Wit and Judgement, with Tristram (or Sterne?) comparing them to two knots – sorry, two knobs.
    Talk of noisy hinges and astrology.
    “—Confusion! cried my father (getting upon his legs a second time)—not one single thing has gone right this day! had I faith in astrology, brother, (which, by the bye, my father had) I would have sworn some retrograde planet was hanging over this unfortunate house of mine, and turning every individual thing in it out of its place.”
    There now follows, in the coming chapters, we are told, the prospect of further digression about Uncle Toby’s love life vis a vis bridges and fortifications? Each a new bridge to cross or a new fortification spitefully to keep us away from reaching the end of our painful lives or, in Tristram’s case, happily not to start it!
    A logical knot. Or a knot as a metaphor for futility. It is futile to call life futile, because it is.

    Tristram Shandy – the first Whovian Time Travel novel? A retrocausal Doctor that time travel turned to SLOP?

  3. Chapter XXIV
    There seems some confusion about SLOP’s bridge, Trim’s bridge or is it Toby’s bridge and someone called Bridget. A drawbridge, which seems highly relevant to Tristram’s inferred means of separating Life and Death?

  4. Chapters XXV – XXVII
    I hope this is not a plot spoiler for here we have revealed the type of bridge SLOP has been making. I claim the following quote is the first indication of the narrator’s actual birth, despite all his best efforts in preventing it or at least delaying it, and now thus igniting ineluctably all the inevitable pains and despairs of not only the leading nose or prow or promontory of life but also the whole of life itself, not only baby Tristram’s life, but also ours:
    “—This unfortunate draw-bridge of yours, quoth my father.
    —God bless your honour, cried Trim, ’tis a bridge for master’s nose.—In bringing him into the world with his vile instruments, he has crushed his nose, Susannah says, as flat as a pancake to his face, and he is making a false bridge with a piece of cotton and a thin piece of whalebone out of Susannah’s stays, to raise it up.”

    But perhaps SLOP, being a character with impulses actually narrated by the reluctant baby Tristram, was not trying to help him into the world at all but to prevent such an eventuality, thus the squashed nose!

  5. Chapters XXVIII – XXXIII

    “I enter upon this part of my story in the most pensive and melancholy frame of mind that ever sympathetic breast was touched with.”

    “—I won’t go about to argue the point with you—’tis so—and I am persuaded of it, madam, as much as can be, ‘That both man and woman bear pain or sorrow (and, for aught I know, pleasure too) best in a horizontal position.'”

    “—So that notwithstanding my father had the happiness of reading the oddest books in the universe, and had moreover, in himself, the oddest way of thinking that ever man in it was bless’d with, yet it had this drawback upon him after all—that it laid him open to some of the oddest and most whimsical distresses; of which this particular one, which he sunk under at present, is as strong an example as can be given.”

    I think I have some things in common with Tristram’s Dad, but I didn’t remember why this nose business, being squashed by SLOP’s forceps, is so significant. These chapters go some way, however, in explaining this. No spoilers here. Meanwhile, I was listening to Frank Zappa music while I read these chapters. For no better reason than playing Hear and Now on BBC iPlayer from last night’s Radio 3.

  6. It seems to me that a groin injury and a nose injury are vaguely similar in physical contours, and both represent a deliberately confused image of respectively staunching birth at root or as a means to a bungled abortion after the event, SLOP, in the latter case, not trying to ease birth with his forceps but failing to abort it with the same forceps, whatever SLOP’s intentions imputed by Tristram as sub-lease narrator (the baby in question) or Sterne as head-lease author, or God as freehold author of all our personal sub-narrations?

    “——Fair and softly, gentle reader!——where is thy fancy carrying thee?—–“

  7. Chapters XXXIV – XLII
    “…you will no more be able to penetrate the moral of the next marbled page (motley emblem of my work!) than the world with all its sagacity has been able to unravel the many opinions, transactions, and truths which still lie mystically hid under the dark veil of the black one.”


    KNOTS & NOSES, I say, rather than an emblem of this ‘motley’ work. A stylised abstraction of knots and noses in transgressive relationship with each other, and now from the erstwhile tangled knots we now have chapters about Tristram’s Dad’s HOBBY-HORSE with noses, long and short noses, the philosophy of noses, tangled noses, noses unfortified by Toby, noses as a pedigree, or siege-engines, noses fallen off marble statuary (I guess) and after these chapters there follows BOOK IV, not yet started, but it seems to start with one of Slawkenbergius’s tales about noses, translated from the Latin, but also showing the original Latin in parallel.
    So, ANYTHING, even Slawkenbergius, to keep the new-born Tristram delayed or forever prevented from appearing himself on his own narrative pages, with or without nose! [I used endlessly to play racing games with marbles when a child to delay the onset of becoming grown-up and responsible for my own life, a life which I thought then would have been better staunched at root. ]

  8. BOOK IV
    A Quixotic or Swiftian tale (its mule-ride of the protagonist reminding me of the zebra-ride in ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’ by HP Lovecraft) of a man who went to the Promontory of Noses as a metaphor for having been born with a very large nose, that becomes a sort of totem hypnotising those who see it. Whether it is supposed to be phallic, one wonders. Which would nicely fit the audit trail of my findings about this whole book so far – to cut off your nose to spite your face.

    “Not one profession had thrown more light upon this subject than the Faculty—had not all their disputes about it run into the affair of Wens and oedematous swellings, they could not keep clear of them for their bloods and souls—the stranger’s nose had nothing to do either with wens or oedematous swellings.
    It was demonstrated however very satisfactorily, that such a ponderous mass of heterogenous matter could not be congested and conglomerated to the nose, whilst the infant was in Utera, without destroying the statical balance of the foetus, and throwing it plump upon its head nine months before the time.—
    —The opponents granted the theory—they denied the consequences.
    And if a suitable provision of veins, arteries, &c. said they, was not laid in, for the due nourishment of such a nose, in the very first stamina and rudiments of its formation, before it came into the world (bating the case of Wens) it could not regularly grow and be sustained afterwards.”

    The later concept in this tale: if a nose is as big as a man, does that beg the question of whether you cut off the nose or you cut off the man first?
    KNOTS and NOSES earlier, now we have another HOBBY-HORSE which I had temporarily forgotten: the fateful importance of NAMES, vis a vis Martin Luther. Did he have a big nose? Here is a picture by Holbein of the Pope hanging from Martin Luther’s nose:


    Cf also Luther’s vision of Jesus as a wax nose?
    And his comparison of the Pope with a knotted King of Rats?


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