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Carlos Puro 1 Carlos Puro Gmez Professor Ricardo Navarrete Textos Literarios Ingleses III 21- Enero- 2011

Tristram Shandy: Unpredictability One of the most important things we can appreciate in Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman are the digressions that the narrator of the book, Tristram Shandy himself, demonstrates along the nine volumes of the book. By digression we understand a temporary departure from the main subject in speech or writing(OED). These digressions sometimes make the reader feel lost on what he or she is reading due to the constant jumps of the narrator. Sterne is playing with the narrative linearity, making sometimes a mock of it. One example of this is the moment when their parents are just in the middle of the sexual act, and his mother asks his father have you not forgot to wind up the clock?(Book I, chapter i). The reader gets confused with this sudden interruption, and it is not till after a few commentaries that he explains the reasons why his mother asked that question. The author is setting the novel as a common speech that two human beings can have in day by day conversation, with a diversion of thoughts that links the conversation with a completely different topic, and where the following question is always made: how have we ended up talking about this? In Tristram Shandy the reader ends up making himself the same question due to the opinions Tristram introduces whenever he thinks he has to explain something, and because of this, these jumps forward and backward are so difficult to follow.

Carlos Puro 2 The novel repeatedly uses this formula where Tristram posits an event or a point and then has to go back in time to then explain why and how it is important. To understand Tobys pursuit of the widow Wadman, we have to understand his attitude on women. To understand his stance on women, we have to understand the circumstance of his war injury at Namur. Therefore, theres no real chronological order to the novel: Its last line is spoken by a character that died more than 500 pages earlier. As Ian Watt said: . . . Sterne didn't want unity or coherence or defined direction, at least in any conventional sense; he wanted multiplicity, not unity; he wanted free association of ideas, not subordination of them; he wanted to go backwards or forwards or sideways, not in straight linear paths.(48) A good point to understand the book and its digressions could be to compare it to the old trains machinery, which were swaying in order to keep the whole machine going and going. Sterne uses not only flashbacks, which the reader is familiar with, but also flashforward, that is, he refers to an event which has not yet happened: a cow broke in (tomorrow morning) to my uncle Toby's fortifications (III, xxxviii, 187). The flashbacks often take the form of digressions, which Tristram claims are in actuality relevant and further the story: In a word, my work is digressive, and it is progressive tooand at the same time.... I have constructed the main work and the adventitious parts of it with such intersections, and have so complicated and involved the digressive and progressive movements, one wheel within another, that the whole machine, in general, has been kept a-going... (I, xxii, 58-9). Sterne is trying to create, as Robert Spector said, a fictional world that parallels the realities of experience.(50), a novel that is so much close to life itself that the lack of these digressions and disorders would make the reader not to really appreciate(apart from feeling lost sometimes) each of the characters ways of life.

Carlos Puro 3 But on these digression and progression methods we find that not only the reader, but also the narrator finds some kind of problems. If the reader can not sometimes follow the narration of the author, what happens with the narrator is the problem with telling the story of his life and propounding his opinions. In following the associations that cross his mind, providing background, and giving his opinions and his father's opinions, the narrator is accumulating material faster than he can write about it: I am this month one whole year older than I was this time twelvemonth; and having got, as you perceive, almost into the middle of the fourth volumeand no farther than to my first day's daytis demonstrative that I have three hundred and sixty-four more days to write just now, than when I first set out; so that instead of advancing, as a common writer, in my work with what I have been doing at iton the contrary, I am just thrown so many volumes back was every day of my life to be as busy as thisAnd why not?and the transactions and opinions of it to take up as much descriptionAnd for what reason should they be cut short? at this rate I should just live 364 times faster than I should writeIt must follow, an' please your worships, that the more I write, the more I shall have to writeand consequently, the more your worships read, the more your worships will have to read (IV, xiii, 228). This lead us to think that even the narrator get somehow lost in time when hes writing and letting the reader know about his thoughts. As it is not the typical story, but a story of telling, the more he gives us opinions, the more hes going to be moving to and fro in his life relation. As Elizabeth W. Harris said, ...He refuses to give his readers the rewards of 'story.' . . .(112). The message Sterne attempts to transmit in this manner is that the narrative of Tristrams life necessarily has to include all this background information, and because

Carlos Puro 4 of that the story of one characters life cant simply begin, as this one tries to do, at conception. Theres really no logical end either; as it is said some paragraphs above, the achronicity of the story means death doesnt really mean a whole lot. Rather, the end is just the point where you decide to stop telling this cock and bull story. To sum up, as D.W.Jefferson said in his Essays in Criticism, Sterne [seems to make] pleasure in destroying the normal order of things and in creating an exaggerated appearance of disorder, but only to link up the pieces in another and more interesting way. Even though Sterne sets perfectly clear the limitations of storytelling through his novel, that does not mean hes against it. In the end, what he tries to achieve is the same as Tristram: All I wish is, that it may be a lesson to the world, to let people tell their stories their own way. And isnt disorder just a path with a different order than we expected?

Carlos Puro 5 Bibliography and Works Cited Harries, Elizabeth W. "Confessions of a Cross-Eyed Female Reader" Approaches to Teaching Tristram Shandy. New, Melvyn, ed. New York: MLA, 1989. 111-7. Jefferson, D.W. "Tristram Shandy and the Tradition of Learned Wit." Essays in Criticism, I. 1951. 225-248 Oxford English Dictionary. Spector, Robert D. "Structure as a Starting Point." Approaches to Teaching Sterne's Tristram Shandy. New, Melvyn, ed. New York: MLA, 1989. 49-54 Sterne, Laurence. Life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Ed. Penguin Classics Watt, Ian. "The Comic Syntax of Tristram Shandy." Studies in Criticism and Aesthetics 1660-1880. Ed. Howard Anderson and John S. Shea. U. of Minnesota P., 1967. Rpt. in Modern Critical Interpretations: Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea, 1987. 43-57. Wikipedia.