Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and Materials as Meaning

Reblogged due to unseemly admiration for Rebecca Romney, unseemly I say.

Official Website of Rebecca Romney

It’s difficult to call The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman a novel. The first of its nine volumes appeared in 1759, while the novel was still being developed as a genre. But that’s not why the term “novel” seems pathetically imprecise for this book. Endlessly digressive, the title character isn’t even born in his own supposed autobiography until about a third of the way through. Large portions of texts are cribbed from other writers (if adapted to new purposes). But most fascinating to me is Laurence Sterne’s use of the physical traits of the book to add meaning to his text.

Most obviously, Sterne uses unusual punctuation to create meaning. The copious and expressive dashes jump out even with the quickest of flips through any edition of Tristram Shandy. One of my favorites is just after Phutatorius has dropped a hot chestnut onto his…lap. The chapter begins…

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About bibliodeviant

This is the journal of Jonathan Kearns Rare Books & Curiosities, and all who sail in her. Information, updates, rantings, musings and pretty pictures related (loosely I would imagine) to the world of rare and antiquarian books will be brought to you by a number of different personalities, some of whom cohabit in the same person's head. We welcome queries, comments and contributions of virtually any description, and in return we will attempt to rein in our multitudinous personality disorders and deliver wonders and joys beyond compare. At least that's the plan. View all posts by bibliodeviant

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