The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy
by Lawrence Sterne
Today (10/1/99) I started reading Tristram Shandy. I read part of
it, a hundred pages or so, back in 1997, thinking it would help me understand
& Dixon. (It didn't really...) But today I'm starting over; it
is the inaugural READIN entry.
--Calamity narrowly averted!!--
It's a longish story and unrelated to
The Topic Under Discussion.
So what can I tell you about the book?... Well first off, it's funny. In an affected way, sure, but funny. Also, it's a very slow read. I have Thomas Pynchon to thank for teaching me how to go back and reread when I find I'm not understanding what I'm reading; that has happened to me about 4 times so far in the first 50 pages of TS.
There is an interesing passage at the beginning of Chapter 13. Sterne says, "It is long since the reader of this rhapsodical work (*) has been parted from the midwife, that it is high time to mention her again to him, ..." The footnote mentions that rhapsodical has a definition in the Oxford English Dictionary that refers to this instance of its use. The whole passage can be read as referring to two people in two different voicings. It could be an aside from the story explaining his reasons for mentioning the character of the midwife (which I think is the way it's intended), or as a preacher's oratory to his congregation (which is what I thought he was talking about the first time I read it).
Tonight I read to Book II Chapter XI -- Tristram's mother is in labor; 88 dense pages into the story our protagonist is about to be born! The name of the game here is Digression. I'm enjoying the rush of ideas and language; but I get the feeling the experience of reading this book will be much like Gravity's Rainbow. There are too many different threads spinning off the main story for me to keep them all straight.
So I'm just going to keep on reading for the time being -- I'm enjoying the story and getting some of the jokes; but I will probably put it aside before I get to the end. Fertile ground for re-reading!
It was gratifying to come across a biblical reference this evening and understand it without having to look at the endnotes -- it gives me the feeling my bible reading of late has been useful.
It's a strange reading experience -- I'm enjoying the read even without, I think, getting much out of it. The beauty/euphony of the language is sort of pullying me along. I'm getting some of the jokes but not, I think, the overall meaning of the book. (I'm well into the third book and he has still not come out of his mother.)
Today, I spent most of my "reading" time on writing a VB program to keep the web site synchronized together and allow people to read it who don't like the bright colors. (Per a request from my folks.)
I got thrown for a loop this weekend -- reading along through Book III and still no birth, I was starting to think hmm, maybe the book is like "Waiting for Godot", and he's never going to be born, and thinking ok, I can read it from that perspective, let's see how it goes...
Then that idea was reinforced when, reading an excellent essay about the Contemporary American Novel, I ran across the sentence, "I felt like Tristram Shandy, waiting for a birth that was endlessly postponed while its prehistory kept growing and growing."
Well no sooner did I sit down to start reading Saturday, than bingo! he's born (Book III, Chapter 27). now all bets are off and I realize I can't tell myself, I'm reading this book in such and such a way, I have to just take it as it comes. Sterne told me as much in Book I; I can't find where right now but he inveighed against reading any book with an aim in mind.