The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman


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At once endlessly facetious and highly serious, Sterne's great comic novel contains some of the best-known and best-loved characters in English literature—including Uncle Toby, Corporal Trim, Parson Yorick, and Dr. Slop—and boasts one of the most innovative and whimsical narrative styles in all literature. This revised edition of Sterne's extraordinary novel retains the text based on the first editions of the original nine volumes (with Sterne's later changes), adds two illustrations by William Hogarth, and expands and updates the introduction, bibliography, and notes, to make this the most critically up-to-date edition available. The text of the novel preserves, as far as possible, the appearance of Sterne's idiosyncratic typography and features such as black pages, marbled pages, blank pages, missing chapters and other devices. The introduction sheds light on the novel's innovations and influence and provides a biographical account of the author. Comprehensive notes identify the profusion of references and reveal previously overlooked sources. The book will appear in time for the 250th anniversary of the publication of first two volumes.

About the Series: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780199532896
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 12/15/2009
Series: Oxford World's Classics Series
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 640
Sales rank: 177,806
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Ian Campbell Ross is Professor of Eighteenth-Century Studies at Trinity College Dublin.

Read an Excerpt

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy -Vol II

By Laurence Sterne Pomona Press

Copyright © 2006 Laurence Sterne
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781406795264

Chapter One


I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider'd how much depended upon what they were then doing;-that not only the production of a rational Being was concern'd in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;-and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost:-Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,-I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that, in which the reader is likely to see me.-Believe me, good folks, this is not so inconsiderable a thing as many of you may think it;-you have all, I dare say, heard of the animal spirits, as how they are transfused from father to son, &c, &c.-and a great deal to that purpose:-Well, you may take my word, that nine parts in ten of a man's sense or his nonsense, his successes and miscarriages in this world depend upon their motions and activity, and the different tracks and trains you put them into; so that when they are once set a-going,whether right or wrong, 'tis not a halfpenny matter,-away they go cluttering like hey-go-mad; and by treading the same steps over and over again, they presently make a road of it, as plain and as smooth as a garden-walk, which, when they are once used to, the Devil himself sometimes shall not be able to drive them off it.

Pray, my dear, quoth my mother, have you not forgot to wind up the clock?-Good G-! cried my father, making an exclamation, but taking care to moderate his voice at the same time,-Did ever woman, since the creation of the world, interrupt a man with such a silly question? Pray, what was your father saying?-Nothing.


-Then, positively, there is nothing in the question, that I can see, either good or bad.-Then let me tell you, Sir, it was a very unseasonable question at least,-because it scattered and dispersed the animal spirits, whose business it was to have escorted and gone hand-in-hand with the HOMUNCULUS, and conducted him safe to the place destined for his reception.

The Homunculus, Sir, in how-ever low and ludicrous a light he may appear, in this age of levity, to the eye of folly or prejudice;-to the eye of reason in scientifick research, he stands confess'd-a Being guarded and circumscribed with rights:-The minutest philosophers, who, by the bye, have the most enlarged understandings, (their souls being inversely as their enquiries) shew us incontestably, That the Homunculus is created by the same hand,-engender'd in the same course of nature,-endowed with the same loco-motive powers and faculties with us:-That he consists, as we do, of skin, hair, fat, flesh, veins, arteries, ligaments, nerves, cartileges, bones, marrow, brains, glands, genitals, humours, and articulations;-is a Being of as much activity,-and, in all senses of the word, as much and as truly our fellow-creature as my Lord Chancellor of England.-He may be benefited, he may be injured,-he may obtain redress;-in a word, he has all the claims and rights of humanity, which Tully, Puffendorff, or the best ethick writers allow to arise out of that state and relation.

Now, dear Sir, what if any accident had befallen him in his way alone?-or that, thro' terror of it, natural to so young a traveller, my little gentleman had got to his journey's end miserably spent;-his muscular strength and virility worn down to a thread;-his own animal spirits ruffled beyond description,-and that in this sad disorder'd state of nerves, he had laid down a prey to sudden starts, or a series of melancholy dreams and fancies for nine long, long months together.-I tremble to think what a foundation had been laid for a thousand weaknesses both of body and mind, which no skill of the physician or the philosopher could ever afterwards have set thoroughly to rights.


To my uncle Mr. Toby Shandy do I stand indebted for the preceding anecdote, to whom my father, who was an excellent natural philosopher, and much given to close reasoning upon the smallest matters, had oft, and heavily, complain'd of the injury; but once more particularly, as my uncle Toby well remember'd, upon his observing a most unaccountable obliquity, (as he call'd it) in my manner of setting up my top, and justifying the principles upon which I had done it,-the old gentleman shook his head, and in a tone more expressive by half of sorrow than reproach,-he said his heart all along foreboded, and he saw it verified in this, and from a thousand other observations he had made upon me, That I should neither think nor act like any other man's child:-But alas! continued he, shaking his head a second time, and wiping away a tear which was trickling down his cheeks, My Tristram's misfortunes began nine months before ever he came into the world.

-My mother, who was sitting by, look'd up,-but she knew no more than her backside what my father meant,-but my uncle, Mr. Toby Shandy, who had been often informed of the affair,-understood him very well.


I know there are readers in the world, as well as many other good people in it, who are no readers at all,-who find themselves ill at ease, unless they are let into the whole secret from first to last, of every thing which concerns you.

It is in pure compliance with this humour of theirs, and from a backwardness in my nature to disappoint any one soul living, that I have been so very particular already. As my life and opinions are likely to make some noise in the world, and, if I conjecture right, will take in all ranks, professions, and denominations of men whatever,-be no less read than the Pilgrim's Progress itself-and, in the end, prove the very thing which Montaigne dreaded his essays should turn out, that is, a book for a parlour-window;-I find it necessary to consult every one a little in his turn; and therefore must beg pardon for going on a little further in the same way: For which cause, right glad I am, that I have begun the history of myself in the way I have done; and that I am able to go on tracing every thing in it, as Horace says, ab Ovo.

Horace, I know, does not recommend this fashion altogether: But that gentleman is speaking only of an epic poem or a tragedy;-(I forget which)-besides, if it was not so, I should beg Mr. Horace's pardon;-for in writing what I have set about, I shall confine myself neither to his rules, nor to any man's rules that ever lived.

To such, however, as do not choose to go so far back into these things, I can give no better advice, than that they skip over the remaining part of this Chapter; for I declare before hand, 'tis wrote only for the curious and inquisitive.

Shut the door.

I was begot in the night, betwixt the first Sunday and the first Monday in the month of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighteen. I am positive I was.-But how I came to be so very particular in my account of a thing which happened before I was born, is owing to another small anecdote known only in our own family, but now made public for the better clearing up this point.

My father, you must know, who was originally a Turky merchant, but had left off business for some years, in order to retire to, and die upon, his paternal estate in the county of -, was, I believe, one of the most regular men in every thing he did, whether 'twas matter of business, or matter of amusement, that ever lived. As a small specimen of this extreme exactness of his, to which he was in truth a slave,-he had made it a rule for many years of his life,-on the first Sunday night of every month throughout the whole year,-as certain as ever the Sunday night came,-to wind up a large house-clock which we had standing upon the back-stairs head, with his own hands:-And being somewhere between fifty and sixty years of age, at the time I have been speaking of,-he had likewise gradually brought some other little family concernments to the same period, in order, as he would often say to my uncle Toby, to get them all out of the way at one time, and be no more plagued and pester'd with them the rest of the month.

It was attended but with one misfortune, which, in a great measure, fell upon myself, and the effects of which I fear I shall carry with me to my grave; namely, that, from an unhappy association of ideas which have no connection in nature, it so fell out at length, that my poor mother could never hear the said clock wound up,-but the thoughts of some other things unavoidably popp'd into her head,-& vice versâ:-which strange combination of ideas, the sagacious Locke, who certainly understood the nature of these things better than most men, affirms to have produced more wry actions than all other sources of prejudice whatsoever.

But this by the bye.

Now it appears, by a memorandum in my father's pocket-book, which now lies upon the table, "That on Lady-Day, which was on the 25th of the same month in which I date my geniture,-my father set out upon his journey to London with my eldest brother Bobby, to fix him at Westminster school;" and, as it appears from the same authority, "That he did not get down to his wife and family till the second week in May following,"-it brings the thing almost to a certainty. However, what follows in the beginning of the next chapter puts it beyond all possibility of doubt.

-But pray, Sir, What was your father doing all December,-January, and February?-Why, Madam,-he was all that time afflicted with a Sciatica.


On the fifth day of November,1 1718, which to the æra fixed on, was as near nine kalendar months as any husband could in reason have expected,-was I Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, brought forth into this scurvy and disasterous world of ours.-I wish I had been born in the Moon, or in any of the planets, (except Jupiter or Saturn, because I never could bear cold weather) for it could not well have fared worse with me in any of them (tho' I will not answer for Venus) than it has in this vile, dirty planet of ours,-which o' my conscience, with reverence be it spoken, I take to be made up of the shreds and clippings of the rest;-not but the planet is well enough, provided a man could be born in it to a great title or to a great estate; or could any how contrive to be called up to publick charges, and employments of dignity or power;-but that is not my case;-and therefore every man will speak of the fair as his own market has gone in it;-for which cause I af-firm it over again to be one of the vilest worlds that ever was made;-for I can truly say, that from the first hour I drew my breath in it, to this, that I can now scarce draw it at all, for an asthma I got in scating against the wind in Flanders;-I have been the continual sport of what the world calls Fortune; and though I will not wrong her by saying, She has ever made me feel the weight of any great or signal evil;-yet with all the good temper in the world, I affirm it of her, That in every stage of my life, and at every turn and corner where she could get fairly at me, the ungracious Duchess has pelted me with a set of as pitiful misadventures and cross accidents as ever small Hero sustained.


In the beginning of the last chapter, I inform'd you exactly when I was born;-but I did not inform you, how. No; that particular was reserved entirely for a chapter by itself;-besides, Sir, as you and I are in a manner perfect strangers to each other, it would not have been proper to have let you into too many circumstances relating to myself all at once.-You must have a little patience. I have undertaken, you see, to write not only my life, but my opinions also; hoping and expecting that your knowledge of my character, and of what kind of a mortal I am, by the one, would give you a better relish for the other: As you proceed further with me, the slight acquaintance which is now beginning betwixt us, will grow into familiarity; and that, unless one of us is in fault, will terminate in friendship.-O diem præclarum!-then nothing which has touched me will be thought trifling in its nature, or tedious in its telling. Therefore, my dear friend and companion, if you should think me somewhat sparing of my narrative on my first setting out,-bear with me,-and let me go on, and tell my story my own way:-or if I should seem now and then to trifle upon the road,-or should sometimes put on a fool's cap with a bell to it, for a moment or two as we pass along,-don't fly off,-but rather courteously give me credit for a little more wisdom than appears upon my outside;-and as we jogg on, either laugh with me, or at me, or in short, do any thing,-only keep your temper.


Excerpted from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy -Vol II by Laurence Sterne Copyright © 2006 by Laurence Sterne. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction vii(18)
Note on the text xxv(1)
Select bibliography xxvi(2)
Chronology of Laurence Sterne xxviii
Notes 540(54)
List of Emendations 594

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The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Illustrated) 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sterne's book is the most hilarious ride one can hope for in the world of English literature. It breaks every rule and convention of the English novel; it can be called the first postmodern novel, and was written before even modernism had taken shape. Neitzsche called Sterne 'the most liberated spirit of all time', and this book is the reason why. Enough said. Buy it, read it, and laugh until you cry.
Geogre More than 1 year ago
The Everyman Library edition of Tristram Shandy is a pleasant, clean text in a satisfying hard cover at an affordable price. Those who already know their middle 18th century Britain will be able to navigate the text from this edition alone, but anyone who has not read Tristram Shandy before may prefer a thoroughly emendated edition, like the Norton. The Florida Edition, edited by Melvin New, is the choice for those seeking an authoritative critical text. For me, I wanted a copy of Tristram Shandy for re-reading, for leisure, and for comfort, and the Everyman delivered all of those things beautifully.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sterne is the patriarch of modernism. His text is rich with short cuts, detours, and dead ends. It threatens to stall or stay in perpetual motion. In short, it is nothing but a joy to read. The reader constantly plays a game within Sterne¿s own textual game. Each return back to the novel sparks a new advent of the eye. Certain phrases of Sterne¿s read like poetry, others suggest the potency of a painting like the Mona Lisa, deep, uncertain, and ever staring back into the nothingness deeps of the viewer¿s pupil. I appreciate texts like James Joyce¿s Ulysses all the more having read Tristram Shandy, the text that launched a thousand typos (well, actually, it took another one hundred and sixty three years for Joyce to get his ¿modernist¿ act together). Tristram Shandy is a truly a celebration in literary masochism. The struggle to conquer each page¿s uncertainty only results in failure. Yet, the failure to pin down the infinite is sweet, bittersweet. Our struggle with the indeterminate that paints each page is beautiful. Sterne¿s games provoke the eye and mind to remain ever questioning; for indeed, only the uncertain defines the extent of one¿s genius. In his refusal to accept the conventional, Sterne is the ultimate optometrist. He corrected my 20/20 vision; I now see blurry, indeed I would not want to see any other way.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As its title suggests, the book is ostensibly Tristram's narration of his life story. But central to the novel is the theme of not explaining anything simply, thus there are explanatory diversions to add context and colour to his tale, to the extent that we do not even reach Tristram's own birth until Volume III. However, beginning the narrative before one has been born is not unique in literature, for example see the opening chapter of David Copperfield. Consequently, apart from Tristram as narrator, the most familiar and important characters in the book are his father Walter, his mother, his Uncle Toby, Toby's servant Trim, and a supporting cast of minor characters including Doctor Slop and the parson Yorick (no doubt inspired by Shakespeare).Most of the action is concerned with domestic upsets or misunderstandings, which find humour in the opposing temperaments of Walter¿splenetic, rational and somewhat sarcastic¿and Uncle Toby, who is gentle, uncomplicated and a lover of his fellow man. "The long-nosed Stranger of Strasburg": Book IV opens with a story from one of Walter's favourite books, a collection of stories in Latin about noses.In between such events, Tristram as narrator finds himself discoursing at length on sexual practices, insults, the influence of one's name, noses, as well as explorations of obstetrics, siege warfare and philosophy, as he struggles to marshal his material and finish the story of his life. What makes this novel remarkable is the seeming modernity of the technique and style. As with Rabelais, Sterne does not follow the "rules" for writing a novel, thus one encounters multiple allusions to other writers and their works and interjections of many kinds into the novel so that you begin to wonder what kind of book this is. Sterne was particularly influenced by Rabelais and his bawdy humor is no doubt due in part to that influence. This is not an easy read but one worth taking in small sections, a bit at a time. Having read Tristram Shandy you may be ready for twenty-first century post-modern literature or you may want to hang up the idea of literature altogether.
_________jt_________ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to like it, because the persistent drollery kept seeming like it would develop into something really funny, and because the author seemed to be trying so hard, but this book really delivers little.
amydross on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't have time to finish this right now, but I aim to return to it one day. It's definitely entertaining, but lacking in forward motion. Seems like it would be a fun book to dip into regularly, without worrying about finishing, but grad school does not allow me that kind of leisurely reading at the moment. I'm about a third of the way through.
Helena81 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I couldn't finish this book, although I tried my hardest. I read about 30%, but it's just so meandering and aimless. I know that people enjoy the rambling narrative and find Tristram a comical narrator, but I just found it annoying and self-satisfied. And if I have to read the words "my uncle Toby" one more time I'm going to scream.
dreamingtereza on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; - they are the life, the soul of reading; - take them out of this book for instance, - you might as well take the book along with them." Laurence SterneIndisputably the most fun one can have alone with a book. An absolute favorite.
lriley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First published in nine parts during the 1760's this very remarkable novel by the English writer Laurence Sterne starts with the birth of one Tristram Shandy--following him through his young manhood. As a writer Sterne was quite the innovator--telling his Tristram stories through the multiple viewpoints of Tristram's father Walter, or his Uncle Toby and his valet Trim or through Tristram himself. Eccentric and unique in style-- we see stories begun and never finished--interrupted by one character or another--often taking them off on unforseen tangents--what makes all this seeming chaos work is the wit, style and verve of the writer and the exuberantly expansive nature of his characters--always curious to look under every rock and to ferret out even the smallest detail of whatever story they're hearing. There is no end to their intellectual curiosity and Sterne's prose moves effortlessly forward crossing over genre's with remarkable ease. For instance all of a sudden we are reading a travel novel (Volume 7) and in the final (Volume 9) book a romantic comedy--and it all fits seamlessly together. Anyway there are a lot of curiosities in this novel--and in some respects the work it reminds me of the most is Joyce's Ulysses--at least in some of its sections. Maybe not the easiest reading at times but for that matter neither is Ulysses or Don Quixote. FWIW a watershed moment in the development of the novel.
endersreads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First let me say that I very much enjoyed Christopher Ricks' introduction. I am usually only immensely angered by introductions¿this one, however, was fascinating. Also, the notes are delightful, and quite lengthy, as the novel is encyclopedic in knowledge. Walter and Captain Toby Shandy have become quite dear to my heart. I am still in the dark as to Toby's groin injury. I wonder if Mrs. Wadman's curiosity was ever satiated? I fear they were married. This novel is such a work of genius that it would be ridiculous for me to attempt to review it in earnest. I feel a bit like Tristram did in that "I don't know where to begin".I will say that I had planned to paste a picture of Gillian Anderson onto the blank page in which the reader is to draw an idealized lady. The marbled pages were over my head. The novel is quite chaotic¿wheels within wheels, digressions within digressions, time jumps, geographical jumps, et cetera. The thread which is consistent in its time scheme throughout the novel are the 2 wars against France.Of all of the novel's events, of all Tristram's own commentaries, I enjoy most the angry philosophical rants of Tristram's well-read father, Walter. Both Tristram and Laurence are very odd fellows, which is why we love them! I also love that Sterne and Tristram were quite fond of Don Quixote.
williamcostiganjr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very fanciful, whimsical book, and--stylistically--well ahead of its time. However, the subject matter is quite archaic. I made it about 300 pages in before I had gotten tired of all the digressions, and stopped reading it. It's a funny book and fairly entertaining--worth looking at, but after a while it grows tiresome.
Eurydice on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Digressive, dear sir? Yes! Bizarre, madam? -- Why, yes.... Bawdy? Well - Just read this passage quickly, madam, once through, without thinking --- and...Is it: Better in the first half? Sure. Sentimental? Certainly.A witty, whimsical, comic gem? - Absolutely!!!
wenestvedt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My oldest brother Cris turned me on to this book when I was too young to really understand how subversive it was (in literary terms) -- and when I encountered it again in college in the middle of an English degree, it was a welcome old friend.
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