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Book Cover: Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
This book changed my life before I was even born. Just how it managed that is an amusing tale, which I'd like to share with you. But, in a Shandean spirit, not just yet.

Tristram Shandy lies, in many respects, midway between Don Quixote and Ulysses. It's a hugely playful and experimental book, brash yet subtle, flush with imagination and wit - which asks its readers to bring those same qualities to the table:

Writing, when properly managed (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation. As no one, who knows what he is about in good company, would venture to talk all;-- so no author, who understands the just boundaries of decorum and good breeding, would presume to think all: The truest respect which you can pay to the reader's understanding is to halve this matter amicably, and leave him something to imagine, in his turn, as well as yourself.

For my own part, I am eternally paying him compliments of this kind, and do all that lies in my power to keep his imagination as busy as my own.       Book II, Ch. XI

Tristram Shandy is shockingly precocious. The language and subjects show that it was published in the 1760s, but the whimsical style and deliberate flaunting of all literary conventions taste thoroughly modern. This book was born about 150 years before it was due.

The great work of the 18th Century English novel was building the scaffolding of Realism. Defoe mapped out the grounding in external details, while Richardson brought a magnifying glass to the workings of the prick heart. Fielding strengthened the novel's scaffolding (Tom Jones is perfectly plotted), while embellishing it with humor and self-awareness. In Tristram Shandy, Sterne dazzles us with embellishment while he deconstructs the scaffolding.

As the full title declares, this book is The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman; but it holds far more opinions than life. Tristram is constantly interrupting his own digressions, so that he doesn't manage to get born until a third of the way through the book. Towards the end of the book (and of Sterne's life) we travel through France with the adult narrator; except for that trip, we never see Tristram grow past five years old. Sterne takes great pleasure in proceeding higgledy-piggledy and frustrating the reader's anticipations of plot developments. Tristram Shandy is probably the greatest shaggy dog story ever told.

There is a method to the madness. Sterne is fascinated by psychology, and his digressions paint a boldly original and insightful view of the human mind. He halfway invents the stream-of-consciousness style of narration. He does borrow from Locke, Bacon, Burton, Rabelais, Montaigne and Cervantes; but then he weaves them into a brand new fabric.

This book is not for everyone. You have to dive in for yourself, and see how it takes you. Either you'll love it (as Tolstoy, Goethe and Diderot did) or you'll hate it (as Richardson, Johnson and Goldsmith did).

In re-reading Tristram Shandy, I'm reminded how much wit, charm and confidence Sterne has. What I'm just discovering is how well-balanced the design is, and how soundly Sterne judges it. It's not perfect: my attention flagged a few times. Though, in fairness to Sterne, my attention isn't perfect either. Standing with Tolstoy et al., it seems to me that Tristam Shandy belongs with Tom Jones, Catch-22 and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, among the funniest books ever written.

Sterne brings careful balance and judgment to his creation, but he hides it well. He abhors rules and makes it seem as though, like many of his characters, he operates purely on impulse:

Sir, I can no more help it than my destiny:-- A sudden impulse comes across me-- drop the curtain, Shandy-- I drop it-- Strike a line here across the paper, Tristram-- I strike it-- and hey for a new chapter.

The deuce of any other rule have I to govern myself by in this affair-- and if I had one-- as I do all things out of all rule-- I would twist it and tear it to pieces, and throw it into the fire when I had done-- Am I warm? I am, and the cause demands it-- a pretty story! is a man to follow rules-- or rules to follow him?       Book IV, Ch. X

Seen as conventional fiction, Tristram Shandy's plot is a haphazard hodgepodge, lacking structure and direction; from a postmodern viewpoint, Sterne is plotting in a higher dimension, playing clever metafictional games.

Whatever you think of the plot, Sterne created some enchanting, well-rounded characters. The major characters are each ruled by their singular views and habits - or, as Sterne puts it, their Hobby-Horses. Tristram's father has a whole herd of hobby-horses, that he has corralled into a Shandean System of What Really Matters. What matters most to Mr. Shandy is his patrimony: ensuring that Tristram grows up healthy and energetic in body, mind and spirit. Tristram Shandy being the book it is, Mr. Shandy takes every precaution to safeguard Tristram's destiny, but nothing works out quite as planned. There are a few major crises/opportunities young Tristram must face to secure his noble destiny. So Mr. Shandy has a few specific wishes concerning Tristram's patrimony.

The first one - I shan't tell you. It's my favorite, and Sterne tells it far better than I can. Just read the first four chapters (only about four pages; start at "Chapter 1.I."), and you'll figure out the first wish, and also get a sense of whether you want to read the whole book.

Mr. Shandy's second wish for Tristram is that he shall have a long and jolly nose:

He would often declare, in speaking his thoughts upon the subject, that he did not conceive how the greatest family in England could stand it out against an uninterrupted succession of six or seven short noses.-- And for the contrary reason, he would generally add, That it must be one of the greatest problems in civil life, where the same number of long and jolly noses, following one after another in a direct line, did not raise and hoist it up into the best vacancies in the kingdom.       Book III, Ch. XXXIII
Tristram is concerned, at this point in his narrative, that when he writes of "long and jolly noses", we might infer that he means something else. To set our minds at ease, he spends several chapters testifying against double entendres, till he finally brings his argument to a head:
Now don't let Satan, my dear girl, in this chapter, take advantage of any one spot of rising ground to get astride of your imagination, if you can any ways help it; or if he is so nimble as to slip on-- let me beg you, like an unback'd filly, to frisk it, to squirt it, to jump it, to rear it, to bound it-- and to kick it with long kicks and short kicks, till, like Tickletoby's mare, you break a strap or a crupper and throw his worship into the dirt.       Book III, Ch. XXXVI
Sterne was a clergyman, so we must take him at his word, that all he meant by "noses" was noses.

In spite of Mr. Shandy's hopes, misfortune strikes again and, while Tristram is finally being born, his nose is squashed "as flat as a pancake". So Mr. Shandy resolves to counter his son's shortcomings with a Name of Power:

Now, my dear brother, said my father, replacing his forefinger, as he was coming closer to the point-- had my child arrived safe into the world, unmartyr'd in that precious part of him-- fanciful and extravagant as I may appear to the world in my opinion of christian names, and of that magic bias which good or bad names irresistibly impress upon our characters and conducts-- Heaven is witness! that in the warmest transports of my wishes for the prosperity of my child, I never once wished to crown his head with more glory and honour than what GEORGE or EDWARD would have spread around it.

But alas! continued my father, as the greatest evil has befallen him-- I must counteract and undo it with the greatest good.

He shall be christened Trismegistus, brother...

This Trismegistus...was the greatest of all earthly beings-- he was the greatest king-- the greatest law-giver-- the greatest philosopher-- and the greatest priest.       Book IV, Chs. XI and VIII

But of all the names in the universe, he had the most unconquerable aversion for TRISTRAM.       Book I, Ch. XIX
You can see where this is going...

Poor Mr. Shandy! He just found out about his son's pancake-nose, and "lay stretched across the bed as still as if the hand of death had pushed him down, for a full hour and a half". Then his brother Toby cheered him up enough to come up with his hail-Trismegistus play. Suddenly the maid Susannah rushes in, saying that the baby's face is black, he may die, and he needs to be christened instantly (unbaptised children won't get to Heaven). So, she asks, what shall we name the boy?

Mr. Shandy considers naming the boy Toby, to compliment his brother; it would be a shame to throw away the great name Trismegistus, if the baby's about to die anyway. But then, the boy may recover. So Mr. Shandy goes through with his third wish. But you must be careful what you wish for - or, at least, who you tell it to.

No, no,-- said my father to Susannah, I'll get up-- There is no time, cried Susannah, the child's as black as my shoe. Trismegistus, said my father-- But stay-- thou art a leaky vessel, Susannah, added my father; canst thou carry Trismegistus in thy head, the length of the gallery without scattering?-- Can I? cried Susannah, shutting the door in a huff.-- If she can, I'll be shot, said my father, bouncing out of bed in the dark, and groping for his breeches.

Susannah ran with all speed along the gallery.

My father made all possible speed to find his breeches.

Susannah got the start, and kept it-- 'Tis Tris-- something, cried Susannah-- There is no christian-name in the world, said the curate, beginning with Tris-- but Tristram. Then 'tis Tristram-gistus, quoth Susannah.

-- There is no gistus to it, noodle!-- 'tis my own name, replied the curate, dipping his hand, as he spoke, into the bason-- Tristram! said he, &c. &c. &c. &c., so Tristram was I called, and Tristram shall I be to the day of my death.       Book IV, Ch. XIV

Poor Mr. Shandy, and poor Tristram - everyone loses, but the happy readers. Now, even if you didn't follow that link to the first four chapters of Tristram Shandy, you have a sense of Sterne's playful style. Thank you, Dear Reader, for coming all this way with me. Here, as promised, is my own little tale, of how this book changed my life before I was even born.

My father loved Tristram Shandy. He was a bit like Mr. Shandy, in that he had his own eccentric system to explain What Really Mattered. He did think for himself, to an exceptional degree - which is how he found a way out from the shadow of his own father, the overbearing colonel.

When I came along, besides having an imposing father and grandfather, and a colorful mother, I also had seven older brothers and sisters. I was the caboose, the runt of the litter.

So my father, inspired by Tristram Shandy, decided to give me a Name of Power. If you know much about Bertolt Brecht, you already know it's not exactly a name of virtue. But it is, as my father would say, a name to conjure with. I'm pleased it worked out this way. If I'd been a girl, Papa was going to name me Zenobia.


Questions for You:

If you wanted to give your daughter or son a name of power, what would it be?

What is your own Hobby-Horse (pet obsession)? Or, if you won't own up to it, what is your "friend's" Hobby-Horse?

Is there a particular novel that seems to you the most original that you've ever read? (please answer yes or no.)

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 05:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thanks for this fascinating diary, Brecht! (17+ / 0-)

    All my life Tristam Shandy stood on my father's bookshelves but I was so busy with Pamela and Tom Jones I never read it.  You've made me want to explore this unusual work.

    I do love the fact that it changed your life before you were even born.  :)

    Yes, the most original novel I've ever read is Magdalen Rising by Elizabeth Cunningham.  When first published it was called Daughter of the Shining Isles.

    A hobby-horse?  H'mm, I must admit to freaking out when people misuse words.  There's a whole list of words that people misuse, and I have a secret list of my own.  If a writer uses one of the words on my secret list, my opinion of that person's writing immediately plummets.  I'm fair:  I don't mind if the word is used in dialogue, because dialogue is a literary device that distinguishes a character.  But if the writer uses the word in exposition I get all bent out of shape.  :)

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 05:09:18 AM PST

    •  You are probably old enough for it now. (8+ / 0-)

      I envy the discovery before you, and hope that you take your time with it.

      Sterne does not misuse words.  His use is deliberate and current for 1770--but the language was different then.

      Have fun.

      •  I wrote a paper on T. Shandy in 1969, which (6+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Garrett, poco, Brecht, mythatsme, dharmasyd, melo

        included the following confession:

        Indeed, Tristram has taken me over, and is running riot inside my head, to the point that I am tempted to emulate his monologue.

        "Tempted, Sir?"

        "Nay Madam, say rather compelled; for the peculiar methods of the author's discourse have so o'erthrown my native inclinations, that I can neither think nor write in that manner to which I am generally accustomed."

        The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, And wretches hang, that jurymen may dine.

        by magnetics on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:33:37 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I would say it's very bold to write in Sterne's (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          poco, magnetics

          voice, but it sounds like you had no choice in the matter. If you're gonna get yourself possessed, Sterne at least is lively, happy company.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 01:38:58 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Much shorter but just as good. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mythatsme, Brecht

        If you do not have time for Tristram Shandy, read Sterne's Sentimental Journey to France and Italy instead.  It has all the same qualities and is quite short.  There is a wonderful chapter on categories of travelers, which I think is just as true today as when he described his categories.  The book begins in the middle of a conversation and ends in the middle of a sentence.  There is a marvelous free audiobook (mp3) of it by a fabulous reader on  I actually like it even better than Tristram Shandy.

        •  Well it's certainly easier than 'Tristram Shandy' (0+ / 0-)

          I enjoyed it, but prefer Tristram. What a shame, though, that he started writing late and then died young - that we have so little of his jubilant voice.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 01:41:00 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Hi Diana, it's always nice to see you :~) (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      poco, Susan from 29, mikidee

      I guess I didn't explain Hobby-Horse well enough.

      I'd call what you're talking about a pet peeve. I have too many of those myself, including yours. People often confuse imply & infer, and misuse "irony".

      I also agree about dialogue, or internal monologue. Joyce's The Dead begins, "Lily, the caretaker's daughter, was literally run off her feet."; but Joyce uses that to tell us what Lily is literally thinking. And here we are, a century later, with that same misuse rife.

      I tend to think of pet peeves as itches - things that make our lives less pleasant. Now I guess, in a way, being persnickety about correct English is a Hobby-Horse unto itself, an obsession that gives a certain pleasure. That's key to the Hobby-Horse: it's something the rider enjoys. So, Uncle Toby turns everything he can into discussions of sieges and warfare. But he so enjoys his Hobby-Horse, that a plan to build models of cities, and re-enact Marlborough's sieges of them, rouses him from his sick-bed, and gives him a new lease on life.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 11:11:16 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks, Brecht... (16+ / 0-)

    This has been on my "gee-I-really-ought-to-read-this-someday" list for years. I've got a long trip coming up, so now may be the time to pick up a copy and finally wrestle with it :~)

    Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time. (Terry Pratchett)

    by angry marmot on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 05:42:46 AM PST

  •  I loved "A Cock and Bull Story" so I (15+ / 0-)

    have been giving Tristram Shandy a try. It's slow going and I know it to be, rather than find it to be funny.

    Fielding is broader humor and I love Tom Jones.

    Someday I'll start again in a slower moment with your diary to guide me. :-D

    •  I do find 'Tom Jones' to be easier going (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      poco, mikidee, magnetics, badscience, Portlaw

      and I laughed out loud more at it. Sterne has a particular style of humor, which does require a reader who wants to collaborate, or even submit, to his waywardness. Fielding has a more universal sense of humor, and jokes in many directions.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 11:17:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the great diary! (14+ / 0-)

    Tristram Shandy is already on my TBR stack, as is War and Peace.  I may spend an entire year on just two books.  ;-)

    Did you happen to see the film Tristram Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story?  It's a film about filming Tristram Shandy, so the viewer sees the process of making the film (although it's not a documentary), as well as the parts of the "Tristram Shandy" film that they manage to complete.  I'd compare the film to Truffaut's Day for Night in that respect.

    I think I'll have to get back to you on most original novel, unless it's Catch-22.  Everything seems to begin with that book for me.

  •  Wow, beautifully written! (12+ / 0-)

    Thanks for this.  My daughters are named Elizabeth and Katherine, reigning female monarchs (not just "queens.)  For boys, David is the name -- great king of The Bible.  But Brecht is cool.

    I've read so many books that I've liked, but I have to vote for The Kindly Ones as the one that takes the greatest leap of imagination.  

  •  *********, ****! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pico, David Michigan, Brecht, Amayi

    *,* Athena. ****, *** - ***.  ,*,***** - __________.

    *** *** *** - **.  ** Poodles?  ******** - ***.


    Out with the gloomage - in with the plumage!

    by mikidee on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 06:43:46 AM PST

  •  Have loved this book, lo these last 50 years (12+ / 0-)

    Besides a very astute observation of human behavior, Sterne was way ahead of most of his contemporaries in psychology of perception and thought.

    Besides he is very funny.

    Thanks for bringing him to mind again.

    As for the movie, was it good?  It certainly could not have captured the soul of the book, but there is great material there.

  •  Names of power... (8+ / 0-)

    My son received a Name of Power.. he was named after a Dragon Prince in a series I was reading when I was pregnant with him. Interestingly enough, he's always had a fascination with dragons, even before he knew where his name originated.

    My daughter was name after a very powerful person (in personality).. my brother in law... who died a couple of years before she was born. I don't know what I would have named her otherwise, she's always been who she is in my head.

    I also give my animals names of power. One dog is named Freya.. she's a laid back dog, but very much a Mama dog, who  wants to protect everyone, even from themselves. Our cat is named Dori after Karen Chance's character Dorina    Basarab, a Dhamphir who kills Vampires who need killing. (Kind of halfway between Ceiling Cat and Basement cat.. add in she's a silver tabby). Sophie, our new puppy came with her name, and already responded to it so we kept it.

    As for pet obsessions, I have a few of them, but they're minor things. Things like, glasses get washed before pots and pans, and tools don't get left outside when you're done with them, and not putting wet clothes with the dry clothes in the laundry (mildew is an issue in Florida). Kind of wimpy pet obsessions.

    Most original fiction: The early science fiction authors, who were entering new territory: Arthur C. Clark, Isaac Asimov, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne.

    "Madness! Total and complete madness! This never would've happened if the humans hadn't started fighting one another!" Londo Mollari

    by FloridaSNMOM on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 07:09:47 AM PST

    •  Yes, a Dragon Prince is quite a Name of Power (5+ / 0-)

      and then, once you have the name, people relate to you accordingly, so that shapes you too. Most amusingly, in "A Boy Named Sue".

      If your son is fascinated with dragons, perhaps you just intuited a name that expressed his essence.

      Your pet obsessions just sound like common sense to me.

      Wells and Verne were visionaries (not that Clarke and Asimov weren't).

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 11:39:12 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you so much for this! (11+ / 0-)

    I adore Tristram Shandy - I recently bought another copy for myself (last one drowned - long story), and will pick it up to read in the very near future because it really is a fun ride!

    Power name? - Athena.  But it's probably a good thing I never had the chance to burden a child with this name - talk about high expectations (she sprang forth fully formed, etc.).

    See Under: Love, by David Grossman, remains at the top of my list for books for so many things, originality among them. Not an easy read, but if you enjoyed Sound and the Fury and  , there's a good chance you'll enjoy love this book.

    Out with the gloomage - in with the plumage!

    by mikidee on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 07:17:20 AM PST

  •  Read Tristam in 18th Cent. English Lit class (8+ / 0-)

    and have fond memories of the humor.  "Hobby-horse" has fallen into our family lingo as a way to describe an obsession or pet issue.

    I remember also Pamela and Tom Jones and Moll Flanders.  My favorite, though, is from across the channel and that would be Candide.

    It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

    by Radiowalla on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 07:29:03 AM PST

  •  I have a name of power (9+ / 0-)

    I was named after my great uncle, who paid so that my father could be the first on his side of the family to attend college.  (That last sentence summarizes a much more interesting story, which I will defer from telling here.)  My name is most commonly, if not in its spelling, but in its pronunciation, associated with females (I am male).  To the extent that it was ever popular as a name for males, it was within the 19th Century American Jewish community, a community within which I am unaware reside any of my ancestors.  My great uncle died shortly after I was born, so I never had the chance to ask him why he was given that name.

    Aside from my father calling me Zippy from time to time, I have never had a nickname.  Fought for my name, and embraced it.  Now, the etymology seems fairly pedestrian, but I even devised a theory as to where my name really came from, which seemed more interesting and romantic.  I translate my name to have meant (in Middle English) He who has been forsaken.  That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

    As to a personal pet peeve, I can be no more specific than Bad Writing.  It comes in various shapes and sizes.  So many that I am reluctant to be more specific.  I just know it when I see it.  And I tend to stop reading at those times.

    A small clarification:

    I intend to mean purposeful writing for a general audience.  When a "normal" person writes, or speaks, I have much more inclination to look or listen for the intent, rather than focus on the technical competence.  

    When it comes to non-verbal hobby-horses, I find I can't put a dirty pot or dish into a sink full of pots or dishes.  I need to what's there first.  Of course, at that point, it just makes sense to keep cleaning.

    As to the most original book?  Impossible to say.

    Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

    by aravir on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 07:51:05 AM PST

    •  I'm afraid my comments are getting shorter (5+ / 0-)

      as my library-allotted time runs down (well, I'm saving some of it, so I can stop by again this afternoon). I enjoyed your comment, as I do your writing in general.

      I like the tale of your name, and the clues towards it. Perhaps I'll try to decipher it some other day.

      So, sorry for my brevity. We'll talk on many other days.

      I was thinking of you, last night, as I worked on a diary for next Friday about the painting of the Sistine Chapel.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 11:51:52 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Have been meaning to read this for years. (11+ / 0-)

    Re-read Tom Jones last year.  Completely agree that Tom Jones, Catch-22 and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are some of the funniest things ever written.

    Thank goodness I never gave my children names of power.  I named them after well loved relatives - which is a kind of power - and they turned out just fine.

    I have enough hobby-horses to furnish a carousel.  One that really sends me through the roof is when a TV show or a movie  uses a piece of music that wasn't written until years after the relevant time period.  This has bothered me since I watched the TV show Bonanza with Wayne Newton as a guest star.  He sang Scarlet Ribbons (for her hair).  I happened to have a 45 of that record (Harry Belafonte 1952) so I knew it was written in 1949.  And it is just a little sad that I actually know when this silly obsession started.  It is even sadder that I watched Bonanza.  ;)

    Yes (you asked for a yes or no, not a discussion of the novel). :D

    Enjoyed the diary!  

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 08:10:43 AM PST

  •  Ok, now you're getting serious (9+ / 0-)
    "My dear sir, as sure as you are you and I am I --"
    "And who are you," asked he.
    "Pray, sir, don't confuse me."
    Tristram Shandy is simply great. (The film could not represent the book, so it reenacted the book's theme: as long as you run from death, you die; when you play, and allow time to go on its own way, you live.)

    I had already been permanently altered by A Tale of a Tub, which was Sterne's model (sort of), and the real book to change my written life anyway was an Irishman who admired Sterne and Swift's -- At Swim-Two-Birds.

    People complain about dirt, but I'd like to see them make some.

    by The Geogre on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 08:37:55 AM PST

    •  Yes, "At Swim-Two-Birds" (7+ / 0-)

      would be in the running for most original book.  I've got The Third Policeman in my TBR pile somewhere.

    •  'At Swim-Two-Birds' is my favorite novel. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mikidee, The Geogre, Monsieur Georges

      I'd have included it among my funniest touchstones, but too few readers would've known what I meant. Absolutely delightful sense of play, and every Celtic flavor of writing, ripe worlds of wonder.

      I certainly hadn't thought of this:

      the book's theme: as long as you run from death, you die; when you play, and allow time to go on its own way, you live.
      But I will now.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:03:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  More on the theme (4+ / 0-)

        "Digressions, sir, are the heart and soul of this book" the narrator says. We know about the typographical plays -- the false end paper, the page that goes "into mourning" for Yorick -- and the "plot diagram" that looks like a ball of yarn, but digression is not digression. In fact, "digression" requires a main theme, and Tristram doesn't have one.

        What is he supposed to be doing? He is supposed to be narrating his life. What, then, are these digressions but that life being lived rather than being rearranged after death the way an eulogy is.

        However, in Book III, he gets sick, and he sees Death, and so he starts running. We then get the worst travel writing ever, as Tristram never gets out of the inn. He is running all the time, because he can never get ahead of Death. Eventually, he sees Maria singing songs to her goats and playing on a flute, and he realizes . . . something.

        Walter Shandy, the "systematickal philosopher," and Toby Shandy, the hobby horseman, set two poles of field goal, and Tristram only stops "dying" when he goes back to the song, to the play. The book, simultaneously, goes from boring (travelogue) to funny again. That third book enacts the message as surely as the black page and the false endpiece had.

        [That will be $25, please.]

        People complain about dirt, but I'd like to see them make some.

        by The Geogre on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:50:28 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'll reply tomorrow (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Monsieur Georges

          as this library computer will kick me off in 5 minutes.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 02:42:44 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  But Lucy in Peanuts only charged 25 cents! (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          The Geogre, poco

          Still, in this day and age, I guess $25 is an extreme bargain.

          Well, everything you say does make sense, and seems perfectly apt as Sterne's own philosophy.

          Certainly he's giving us "life being lived rather than being rearranged after death the way an eulogy is". You could say that is his theme: giving us life in the raw moment, not prettified and pinned down for display.

          He actually does give us a lot of life, but it's mostly Toby's and his father's. From some of the background reading I did, it seems that these two men were the two main poles of Sterne's own father.

          I'd say the travel writing was boring as travel writing, but very funny as a parody of travel writing. Well, all that you say is pretty convincing - but I hardly got any of that out of it when I read it. Great books have many layers.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 02:13:53 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I was satirizing meself (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I'm an academic.

            I was making fun of the fact that usually I teach the novel, and I don't make much money, so I was acting as if information came with a meter attached to it.

            Sterne was addicted to Swift's A Tale of a Tub, and the stylistic similarities are striking. However, the Toby/Walter split is more, I think, than simply elements of his father. Toby's hilarious insistence that his wound was "at Blenheim" (rather than in the groin) to the Widow Wadman, and his elaborate lark of military miniatures, marks out . . . something else, I think.

            In the mid-century we were starting to get those gentlemen scientists. Squirearchy was giving way to gentleman chemists and geologists and fossil hunters, and this flowering of education amidst (imperial) wealth was a new and strange thing. There was no name for it.

            Anyway, there is an interesting social history element lingering beneath the surface. Is it Arthur Cash? No. . . Melvyn New has done a lot on the medical stuff in the novel. That set off a storm of articles about midwifery vs. obstetrics in the novel: there was a growing . . . "enclosure" against folk practice in every regard as Science started getting regimented and industry took out the paternal artisans.

            People complain about dirt, but I'd like to see them make some.

            by The Geogre on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 06:06:30 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  No wonder you're making sense and sharing insight: (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              The Geogre

              you've already thought about all this stuff.

              Swift's pretty special. Haven't read A Tale of a Tub in twenty years, but I did just buy a Swift collection with it and other shorter works.

              "However, the Toby/Walter split is more, I think, than simply elements of his father"; I expect that gave Sterne the germ of it, and then he let his imagination run on in all directions at once, as it does.

              Thanks for dropping science on me.

              "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

              by Brecht on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 01:32:56 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks, delightful. (10+ / 0-)

    As always, Brecht, thoughtful and enlightening writing--thanks.

    I am a huge Tristam fan, but it seems to be getting harder and harder to find people who have actually read it and would want to discuss it. (Perhaps I am just getting old, but I don't think that's it.)

    Sterne, I believe, was influenced heavily by Rabelais and Tristam seems to have benefited from that admiration.

    Name of Power: Since I have a son and his name is Luc, I am going to skip the first question. But maybe I should have called him Zeus or Mac?

    Pet Obsession: Poor grammar in published works. Like Diana in NoVa, I abhore the new style of "utilizing" words incorrectly--even when it's all the rage.  I remember when Eats, Shoots & Leaves was published. After it was recommended by a half dozen friends, I picked it up and immediately thought it was a joke, or at least an ironic look at poor punctuation. The book (beginning with the dedication) was so grammatically flawed that I refused to read it. I remarked once that it should have been a coffee table book with pictures of odd and funny punctuation mistakes. (Oops, that almost turned into a rant. Forgive me.)

    Original Novel(s): Yes. I think we might all agree on Ulysses as one of the top of such a list, but I wanted to point out two more: Time's Arrow by Martin Amis and Vita by Benvenuto Cellini.

    Time's Arrow is the story of a doctor of the Holocaust camps told in reverse chronology--from New York to Auschwitz and before. While the style has been done on occasion, I think Amis really nails it here.

    Vita (Life) is the first truly accessible autobiography and I was seduced with the first sentence:

    No matter what sort he is, everyone who has to his credit what are or really seem great achievements, if he cares for truth and goodness, ought to write the story of his own life in his own hand; but no one should venture on such a splendid undertaking before he is over forty.
    With thes words, Cellini marks out a plain blueprint for those individuals deserving of an autobiography. One has to suspect there would be fewer autobiographies if the admonishment were actually followed! Cellini was a Renaissance sculptor and his life does make for good reading, although I can't vouch for the "truth" and "goodness" he promises. In any event, a fun read.

    As Mr. Sterne once noted: "I take a simple view of life. It is keep your eyes open and get on with it."

    •  Eats... (8+ / 0-)
      I remember when Eats, Shoots & Leaves was published. After it was recommended by a half dozen friends, I picked it up and immediately thought it was a joke, or at least an ironic look at poor punctuation. The book (beginning with the dedication) was so grammatically flawed that I refused to read it.
      Eats, Shoots and Leaves is one of those popular books that your friends will give you if they know you're interested in language.  Some publication I read had a devastating review of the book, so I warned my wife, "Whatever you do..."
    •  Thanks for the compliments, & for enjoying my work (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mikidee, poco, Monsieur Georges

      Pet peeves about different kinds of poor writing seem the commonest, here in R&BLers. But that's why I like writing here, because we have so many good readers who take writing seriously. Second among pet peeves appears to be to do with dirty dishes. Clarity is important with glasses and meanings.

      I didn't know about Vita, thank you.

      Time's Arrow I've read reviews of, but not gotten to yet. He's certainly a clever and capable writer and also, at his best very funny.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:11:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  That last motto of Sterne's, "keep your eyes open (0+ / 0-)

      and get on with it", is a lot of wisdom in a nutshell. Thank you.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 02:16:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Answers to your questions. (9+ / 0-)

    I named my son Marcus, for Marcus Aurelius.
    I have no "pet obsession," from my point of view. My wife would probably say that my two obsessions, other than my profession and my family, are movies and wine.
    The most original novel I have read in a long time is "Sophie's World," by Jostein Gaarder.

  •  Of all the characters in the book, (11+ / 0-)

    I find myself, the reader, to be the most unstable.

    My character is brought up, I am directly addressed, nearly constantly. But who I am is so changing.

    I suspect that the author is making fun of me for being so inconstant. And also, that he likes me, for being so generally human.

  •  I read "Tristram Shandy" long ago in (8+ / 0-)

    an English course called "The Rise of the Novel". I still remember that it was very funny and the phrase "hobby horse" to describe people's obsessions. When Bush was president I often thought of hobby horses  when Dick Cheney was in the news. In fact, whenever I think of really twisted people like Cheney and LaPierre I think of them as people with very strong hobby horses, so "Tristram Shandy" really left a lasting impression on me.
    I liked your diary so mush that I am thinking of re-reading the book.

    48forEastAfrica - Donate to Oxfam> "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." Edna St.V. Millay

    by slouching on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 09:58:15 AM PST

    •  I think most truly evil people are ridden by their (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mikidee, poco, Monsieur Georges

      own Hobby-Horses. I'm not sure I'd call Bush truly evil (more of a proud fool than a devil - but it depends how much you weigh intentions vs. actions); Cheney and Rove are evil.

      Thanks for the high praise - I'm glad you enjoyed the diary. I did too.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:18:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Love love love love this book. (17+ / 0-)

    And I always love having an excuse to post this, one of its most famous images, wherein the narrator describes, in visual form, the plot progression of his book:

    I also love how Sterne makes comic hay out of a serious subject - Tristram's uncle was wounded in the groin during the siege at Namur, and the widow he's courting wants to know, as delicately as possible, whether his equipment still functions:

    --And whereabouts, dear sir, quoth Mrs. Wadman, a little categorically, did you receive this sad blow?--In asking this question, Mrs. Wadman gave a slight glance towards the waistband of my uncle Toby's red plush breeches, expecting naturally, as the shortest reply to it, that my uncle Toby would lay his fore-finger upon the place--
    Painfully awkward moment, which Sterne defuses in an equally painful, ridiculous way:
    It fell out otherwise--for my uncle Toby having got his wound before the gate of St. Nicolas, in one of the traverses of the trench opposite to the salient angle of the demibastion of St. Roch; he could at any time stick a pin upon the identical spot of ground where he was standing when the stone struck him: this struck instantly upon my uncle Toby's sensorium--and with it, struck his large map of the town and citadel of Namur and its environs, which he had purchased
    and pasted down upon a board, by the corporal's aid, during his long illness--it had lain with other military lumber in the garret ever since, and accordingly the corporal was detached to the garret to fetch it.
    (In other words, "Where were you wounded?" and he points out the spot on a map.  Har!)

    Seriously, those of you who've put it off because it looks so old and dusty... It's one of the funniest, dirtiest, craziest, and most "modern" novels of its time (or any time).

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 10:06:06 AM PST

  •  Hm. This is a book I should read! (9+ / 0-)

    So I'll get a copy to bring on the plane with me to Louisville in June for the AP US History reading, and that means I'll probably read enough of it there to be finished before NN 13 starts.

    Original novel? Hands down Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! which I read in an American Lit since 1865 course and wrote a paper on, which forced me to read it three times because I really didn't get it in the first two readings.

    Hobbyhorses? Word usage, especially discreet/discrete and dominant/dominate. And since I carry a name of power already . . .

    -7.75, -8.10; . . . Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall (h/t cooper888)

    by Dave in Northridge on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 10:21:24 AM PST

    •  I started 'Absolom, Absolom!' and ran aground (3+ / 0-)

      through no flaw of the book - it was gnarly but compelling. Just got swept away by other things.

      But I've only read The Sound and the Fury, and I have a sense that I'll need to read another half dozen Faulkners (there being so much there), so I better get back to it soon. I want to try Sanctuary.

      Have a good trip to Louisville. Oh, I guess that's premature. Have a good day.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:33:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Now I have to read it also. (9+ / 0-)

    Name of power? I wanted to name our daughter Ragnar after Ragnar Lodbrok but my wife nixed the idea. I can even trace our genealogy back to him.

    Original novel? It is hard to think of one more creative than Moby Dick. I tried to read it as a kid and got nowhere. When I was in my twenties I picked up a hitchhiker who happened to be an English professor. He said that he always assigned it and thought it was the greatest novel ever. He was an interesting guy so I decided to try to read it again. By the way, I don't pick up hitchhikers any more because of the next guy I picked up on that trip. I was driving a pickup and the professor volunteered to ride in the back. The new guy suggested to me that we murder him to see what was in his wallet.

    •  Sorry about your horrid hitchhiker. (4+ / 0-)

      I hate how the few assholes spoil things for the many harmless folks.

      I, too, didn't get into Moby Dick until my third attempt. But, yes, once you actually disembark on that ride, Melville just fills the sails of his imagination, with his love of language, Shakespeare, the seven seas, and so much else, and he just lets it all fly. Intoxicating.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:37:09 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Ah Brecht, another fine effort (6+ / 0-)

    And now "Tristram Shandy" occupies that same space in my shelf of books I really really should read. Like Stendhals' The Red and the Black'.

    In this vein, I shall answer your questions, under the assumption that someone cares about the answer

    1)Already did: Alexandre

    2)Absolutely I shall own up to my own hobby horse: That the country and indeed the world would be a far far better place if people would a) Read more books b) Have more sex, c) Eat more prunes and d) Tell more jokes. This recommendation comes free of charge

    3)Yes 'Gravity's Rainbow'. Actually that is in second place to 'Ulysses'.

    Read on

    An empty head is not really empty; it is stuffed with rubbish. Hence the difficulty of forcing anything into an empty head. -- Eric Hoffer

    by MichiganChet on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 10:41:14 AM PST

    •  I haven't gotten to the prunes yet - but the other (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mikidee, Monsieur Georges

      edicts are so wise, perhaps I should start.

      They say you should read The Red and the Black in your twenties. I did, but I preferred The Charterhouse of Parma. However, The Red and the Black is on my shelf to reread, on account of being influential in the history of the novel.

      Alexandre's good.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 12:41:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  As a tad in high school about 1960, I read (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poco, Brecht, mikidee, Monsieur Georges

    it.  I was somewhat of a Latin scholar (it being a Jesuit school, I took both Latin and Greek), and enjoyed the exuberant excommunication/curse, with the head-to-toe detail.  (There's some really good stuff in Rablais as well.)

    A while back there was some thread where curses came up and I was delighted to contribute Sterne's masterpiece.

    Real plastic here; none of that new synthetic stuff made from chicken feathers. By the morning of 9/12/2001 the people of NYC had won the War on Terror.

    by triplepoint on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 10:55:22 AM PST

  •  Love it (7+ / 0-)

    Tristram Shandy has for years been my favorite novel, and one of the funniest books I've ever read. Yet I've never managed to finish it. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself.

    My favorite line about Sterne is the one attributed to Joyce: that Swift and Sterne should have switched names to better describe their writing.

  •  Names of power and other thoughts (6+ / 0-)

    I made a point of not giving my kids any name loaded with expectations. I have known two men saddled with "King" as a first name - one I evicted for non-payment of rent, the other is a not very successful CPA for a slumlord.

    My older brother is saddled with "junior" and I don't think it helped him any.

    Maybe George W would not have invaded Iraq if he had been named John or Bill or anything but George.

    Hobby horse? In Matt Groening's immortal words, I shoulda spent more time doing the mambo! The world needs more dance music! The government needs to subsidize night clubs!

    Original novel? I don't really look for originality - I want a novel to be true, to be revealing, to touch me, to open my eyes to things and thoughts and feelings I knew but hadn't named, or to build characters that are true, that are real, that are full --  That can certainly be original - but that isn't the main point. Huck Finn, Moby Dick -- there's many more.

  •  It's been close to 50 years since I tackled (3+ / 0-)

    Tristram Shandy and I can't remember finishing it.  But I do remember my most favourite character - the retired sea captain who lived his life as though he was still at sea.  When he travelled, he took note of the direction of the wind and tacked his way down the narrow lanes lined with hedgerows.  He was, iirc, always late for his engagements.  

    We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. B. Franklin

    by Observerinvancouver on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 01:42:45 PM PST

  •  but i digress (7+ / 0-)

    tristram shandy is my favorite english novel. it's a one-off, nothing like it before or since. yes, rabelais' great energy, fun and freedom is an influence and you can feel some of the loopiness of don quixote in the background (we're so used to the windmill epidode and others that it's almost impossible to see how nutso it all was when written) but sterne's voice is both gentemanly up front and so sly and sexy as a constant undertone that it's unlike anything before or since.

    the plot drawings [in a comment above] remind me of his freewheeling whimsy. he has a page of doodles and a marbleized page [makes me wonder how the printers handled all that at the time] all part of his digressive nature. he's ready to go anywhere (as another writer and partial surrealist once sang).                                     he addresses  readers directly. and by saying what he doesn't think they're quite up to hearing about, points directly to it. he's coy but also extremely good natured. he knows that most of his readers are women (the beefy dr. johnson said of tristram that "nothing odd lasts long,"  (of course more readers now read sterne than johnson himself - except in the table talk that makes up boswell's biography) because the no-nonsense male wants his sex more directly (say fanny hill) but women of that time - and this is the 18th century - they had not yet been forced into total sexual blackout as the victorians were - were, like the widow wadman, looking and asking to see what the man had or hadn't to show.

    in light of that, brecht, i'm going to lift the veil a bit on your embargo of the beginning of the book, and say that if you've ever read a funnier sex scene than the one that starts tristram, please let me know.

    thanks for your diaries. i come to this site mostly for the political and humanisitc stuff. your book interests and your expressiveness are mind and heart opening.

    but i digress. about tristram i'll say that neuropsychologists are beginning to see the brain operating very much in the disconnected way that sterne does, people are so bombarded with stimuli that most of the day is spent trying to stay on message even for yourself - often at the cost of the narrowing and diminishment of the  very self that you're trying to control. that sterne gives us all this in so weird and funny a form, with so many  wise and witty asides, makes his book a great gift, one of literature's greatest.

    •  you're digressing and I'm running away. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dharmasyd, Monsieur Georges

      I am almost out of computer time here, so I must reply to you tomorrow. Like Sterne, I make you wait.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 02:46:27 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I opened randomly to the marble page (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Monsieur Georges, poco, Brecht

      the first time I encountered the book.  I think another student had left it behind somewhere.  In modern editions, the marble page, and her sisters, the black page and the white page, are printed.  I have always assumed these pages in the original edition were insertions of thick stock, of the kind normally used for endpapers.

    •  I'm glad you like my diaries; I like your comment. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      How 'bout I write more diaries and you write more comments? (that's just a suggestion - I'm going to write more diaries in any case.)

      I wasn't embargoing the start of the book, I was asking my readers to click a link - well, it wasn't a very strict embargo, anyway. Yes, that's delightful, and I love how Sterne spills it out in dribs and drabs, and makes the reader apply their imagination too.

      "sterne's voice is both gentemanly up front and so sly and sexy as a constant undertone that it's unlike anything before or since." Yes. Richardson is such a prude, in how he judges people for their sexual slips, yet such a lech, in how he titillates his readers with these atrocious sins. Johnson wasn't a hypocrite like that, but he was priggish.

      Sterne takes so much natural joy in sex (as he did in real life) - he reminds me of Shakespeare, with his love of puns and double entendres. Fielding has a healthy moral view, too, and also slyly subverts the priggishness of his time.

      I'm with Sterne and Fielding here, and I'm also with them in their general rebellion against uptightness and for the raw energies of life and love. There is a necessary balance to be found here - Aleister Crowley was a dangerous fool, to belive "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law". But it's essential to see the opposite danger, of the constrictions of uptightness, of, as you say, "the cost of the narrowing and diminishment of the very self that you're trying to control".

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 02:37:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the reminder! (6+ / 0-)

    It's been decades since I read Tristram Shandy. My first time was as an undergrad in the 70s, and I was sure Sterne had discovered LSD long before Ken Kesey. I read it years later as a grad student and enjoyed it immensely from a different point of view, being an older "wiser" reader now. Ha. Tristram is a hoot but I don't know if it's taught much anymore, because it doesn't fit the 18th-century mold. It would be fun to teach it, as you mention, alongside Ulysses, and also more modern stuff like Gravity's Rainbow and Infinite Jest (sort've an answer to #3). Wonderful diary.

    stay together / learn the flowers / go light - Gary Snyder

    by Mother Mags on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 02:45:48 PM PST

    •  "it doesn't fit the 18th-century mold" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Yes. Sterne carefully measured the prevailing mold, and then wrote his book orthogonal to the mold.

      Which is something Joyce, Pynchon and Wallace all set out to do, too. And they all succeeded.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 02:41:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  enjoyed richardson & fielding, but i don't think i (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Monsieur Georges, Brecht

    ever got the opportunity to read sterne or ts.  i'll try both on your recommendation.

    just curious, but i'd be interested to know if you've ever read jane austen, & if so, how you compare her to the writers (all male,  btw) you mentioned?

    •  When I first read Austen, I found her funny but (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bluezen, poco

      slight. You know, all drawing rooms and picnics, no grand adventures.

      Then I came to admire her exquisite moral sense - she has such a sound heart and mind, her sense of goodness has both human forgiveness and definite clarity.

      And the more I read - of her, and of 18th and 19th century novels - the more sublime she appears. She's far more original than the reader first notices. But her advances: of romantic entanglements; of moral understanding; of how her heroines talk to themselves (while her villains talk too much at everybody else, without ever listening); well, her advances have become foundational to the novel.

      I could make equivalent arguments for how Richardson, Fielding and Sterne each built part of those foundations. But Austen is the one whose work is most frequently taken for granted, and not appreciated for the bold and original work it was at the time.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 03:00:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  i think it was sir walter scott who said of austen (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        (not an exact quote, here) "anyone can do the big bow-wow but it takes real talent to make the ordinary interesting" -- or words to that effect.  

        didn't fielding write a parody of richardson's pamela b/c he though richardson was a hack?

        the 18th century had some great writers.

        •  Yes, Fielding wrote "Shamela" (0+ / 0-)

          and, judging from what I've read Richardson say of Fielding's work, Richardson was far too stuffy to enjoy a joke at his expense.

          Thanks for the nicely worded Scott quote.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 01:35:45 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  my rec button is currently invisible otherwise i (0+ / 0-)

            would give you one (that didn't make much sense, did it?) -- thanks for the compliment.

            i once tried to read shamela but it wore me down after 4 chapters.  fielding was a hoot!  too bad he died so young -- like jane austen.

            •  Yes, Fielding was a hoot. I like that word. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I haven't even tried Richardson yet. He wore me down before I opened the book.

              But I have a complete Austen at home, so I still have a few to look forward to.

              "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

              by Brecht on Wed Jan 30, 2013 at 05:53:51 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Name of Power (3+ / 0-)

    Unfortunately my daughter was stillborn -- really the saddest thing that has yet happened in my life -- but we had picked out a wonderful name for her:


    Persephone, who brings the Spring and symbolizes rebirth.  I don't think it gets much more powerful than that.

    "[W]e shall see the reign of witches pass over . . . and the people, recovering their true spirit, restore their government to its true principles." Jefferson

    by RenMin on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 03:58:31 PM PST

    •  Oh, RenMin, what can I say? (0+ / 0-)

      I'm so sorry.

      Persephone's a lovely name, a beautiful story.

      I would make you a pomegranate margarita, if I were there. I made some once. They were delicious.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 03:04:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I adored Tristram Shandy (5+ / 0-)

    Somehow I sneaked into an upper-level English class, Rise of the Novel, as a bio/pre-med frosh.  All my other choices were full, and I really needed an afternoon humanities elective with open seats.  

    Tristram Shandy was on the reading list along with Moll Flanders, Pamela, and several others.  I loved it so much, my bio and physics fell by the wayside.  One of my first clues that pre-med was not for me!

    Only after I got an A on my first paper did the professor figure out I was neither an upperclassman nor an English major.  He let me stay and it ended up my only A of the term.  I changed my major to English, then changed it five or six more times before settling on nursing.

    Tristram Shandy is duly added to my to-re-read list!

     I can think of no more stirring symbol of man's humanity to man than a fire engine.     -- Kurt Vonnegut

    by SteelerGrrl on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 04:58:19 PM PST

    •  I like the story of your class, and of switching (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      majors so many times. I started in Computer Science, switched a few times, and ended up taking seven years to graduate, with degrees in literature and political science. I learned a lot of interesting things in the course of my meanderings. I hope nursing suited you, in the end.

      Moll Flanders is sitting on my TBR shelf. She's feeling all squashed and neglected in the crowd there.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 03:12:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Well, first of all, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SteelerGrrl, Monsieur Georges, Brecht

    P.G. Wodehouse wrote around 100 of the funniest books. And then there is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Just to say.

    I agree with everything you say about Tristram. It was many years ago, but I remember vividly the physical shock I got when I turned to the blacked out pages and realized what a stunning, modern joke they were. I was already digging it, but that stopped me, and I sat there with my chin in my lap, marveling.

    To your quiz: I would have named a daughter Clarity. At the moment, I can't leave the goddam Angry Birds alone.

    And yes to the most original novel, though not necessarily the best. I'll nominate Naked Lunch, which is structured like an onion. Although if I'm right about Billy Pilgrim being schizophrenic for the length of it, I'll put Slaughterhouse Five on the list. Not for the crazy character, but for making his delusional state so accessible that people mistake the thing for science fiction. I mean, Tralfamador? An obviously made up word. Zoo'd with a willing porn star? That's male delusion, not interplanetary adventure.

    Anyway, great subject, good story. Thank you.

    To My Colonoscopist

    I think that I shall never see
    so far up you as you up me.

    by shieldvulf on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 05:23:20 PM PST

    •  Tralfamador is also in Vonnegut's (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SteelerGrrl, Brecht

      The Sirens of Titan, if I recall correctly.  If Vonnegut didn't mean for Slaughterhouse Five to be science fiction, then it's a sudden break from his previous books.

    •  Well, yes, P.G. Wodehouse is amazing (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I was reading some last year and realizing just how smart he was, to pull off so much in (mostly) just a few styles, without ever getting boring. He's so sharp.

      Fear and Loathing too, easily the funniest of the five or so Hunter S. Thompsons I've read. I like the other Fear and Loathing too. But Vegas just rips your mind apart, and keeps you laughing. Savage wit.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 03:30:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I got a surprise last year ... (5+ / 0-)

    ... on a visit to York, England.  Out of curiosity I entered one of the old, old houses on a street called Stonegate, advertised as a haunted building, with a sort of "occult" store on the ground floor ... and couldn't figure out why in the world they were selling copies of Tristram Shandy in it.

    It turned out that that very house -- probably medieval in origin -- is where the book was first printed.

  •  Thank you for a very interesting and enjoyable (4+ / 0-)

    diary.  I'll have to re-read Tristram Shandy since the first time I read it I must confess to being somewhat confused by it.  This can be attributed to either poor teaching on the part of the instructor who assigned it, or my own obtuseness.  Guess which excuse I'm going with?  You however, have piqued my interest in giving it another go.

    Power names would have to be Sophia, for a girl, because what is more powerful than wisdom, and Luke, for a boy, because what is more powerful than bringing light to others?

    My pet obsession is cooking.  I have bought hundreds of cookbooks over the years.  I read them all the time.  I have thrown many a dinner party and enjoy spending countless hours in the planning and execution of them.  I have countless notebooks full of recipes and menus for future entertaining.  I watch too many cooking shows to unashamedly admit to polite and intellectual society; the same goes for cooking blogs.  Lastly, I will cook for anyone who is willing to be fed.

    One of the most original novels that I have read is A Confederacy of Dunces.  I suppose my reading isn't terribly esoteric, but I found it compellingly different from most of what I have read.

    Thanks again and best wishes.

    "Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." - John F. Kennedy -7.8., -6.6

    by helpImdrowning on Fri Jan 25, 2013 at 11:25:03 PM PST

    •  Confederacy of Dunces (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brecht, poco, helpImdrowning

      +1.  One of my all-time favorites, and truly an original.

      I'm not a big fiction reader in general.  Old cookbooks, OTOH, can entertain me for hours!

       I can think of no more stirring symbol of man's humanity to man than a fire engine.     -- Kurt Vonnegut

      by SteelerGrrl on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 11:44:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I do love 'Confederacy of Dunces' (0+ / 0-)

      I'm a big fan of savage wit.

      I'm sorry my response is so short, I have 42 seconds until the library computer shuts down. 27 now. Bye.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 03:33:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Tristram (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SteelerGrrl, Brecht, Take a Hard Left

    has been on my shelf for many years, waiting for just the right time. Though I've always been a voracious reader, I somehow missed many classics, and I'm attempting to remedy that.

    I am a huge fan of Vonnegut, Bradbury, (Dandelion Wine makes me weep every time) Pratchett, and Adams, but my most beloved book is Silverlock, by John Myers Myers. It's long out of print, but it's the most wonderful trip through literature I've ever read. The story itself is wonderful, but the encounters with Robin Hood, Don Quixote, Beowulf, Belle Watling, make it shimmer with joy.

    please visit my etsy shop at

    by Stucko on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 10:39:41 AM PST

  •  Thanks for the Inroad to Tristram (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brecht, dharmasyd

    I'm one of the world's Slowest Readers, so I pick my large reads carefully. I own a really nice edition of TS (The Bodley Head Limited, 1921/Illustrations by John Austen/still some uncut pages). After your input I read its introduction by JB Priestley which further draws me in. So, off I go! Thanks

    Haven't re-read this since in my early twenties (forty years ago) but at that point I thought that John Barth's novel in the same vein, The Sotweed Factor, was the Best Book Ever. His later books had me stumped.

    Human rights, democracy and peace are a single entity. When one disintegrates, they all disintegrate... Daisaku Ikeda

    by Take a Hard Left on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 01:02:28 PM PST

    •  I enjoyed 'The Sot-Weed Factor'; went through (0+ / 0-)

      a Barth phase in college. Not sure how I'd find him now. I was more enchanted by sheer cleverness back then.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 01:40:06 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  All evil-doers... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...are ridden off into the wildernesses by their Hobby Horses.  But not all Hobby Horse riders are evil.  Riding off on, or being ridden by, a Hobby Horse only means being out of control and being unaware of what one is doing.  It's distraction with an ego-centric propulsion mechanism.

    And when shalt thou be born, Tristram dear?
    Anon, Anon, Sir!

    I love your thought that TS is the greatest shaggy dog story ever written.

    "Truth and love will overcome lies and hatred.” Vaclav Havel

    by dharmasyd on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 02:23:53 PM PST

  •  I ignored your diary until.... (0+ / 0-)

    by coincidence there was an article in The NY Times about Denis Diderot, which sent me to Wikipedia, which said that Tristram Shandy had an influence on Diderot. . . .

    Given the authoritarian societies both men lived in....they did heroic jobs of inserting their original ideas into their work.

    My mother was influenced by Rousseau but she said that she realized too late that The Upright Savage wasn't working out and that she was just plain raising little savages. We turned out OK in the end.

    As for names of power that you asked about, I'd pick John and Mary of Joseph and Sarah  because they can go anywhere, do anything.

    On the Internet nobody knows I am a dog or whether my name is Rex or Bubbles!

    •  "she was just plain raising little savages" ha ha (0+ / 0-)

      My mom said I was her most amusing, and her most difficult child.

      Diderot's Jacques the Fatalist, which is very inspired by Sterne, is a marvelous read.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 01:43:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for the Diderot recommendation (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I should really sort out my understanding of The Enlightenment....and where my mother went wrong in child rearing.

        •  Here's one of my favorite poems, which certainly (0+ / 0-)

          enlightens me about my parents, by Philip Larkin:

          This Be the Verse

          They fuck you up, your mum and dad.  
              They may not mean to, but they do.  
          They fill you with the faults they had
              And add some extra, just for you.

          But they were fucked up in their turn
              By fools in old-style hats and coats,  
          Who half the time were soppy-stern
              And half at one another’s throats.

          Man hands on misery to man.
              It deepens like a coastal shelf.
          Get out as early as you can,
              And don’t have any kids yourself.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Sat Feb 02, 2013 at 02:37:35 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Kenneth Rexroth on Tristram Shandy (0+ / 0-)

    Here's Kenneth Rexroth's superlative "Classics Revisited" essay on Tristram Shandy: . My own much briefer comments on the book are at

    •  But what you said on 'Tristram' is just my essay, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      with all the chattering taken out.

      Thanks for the link to your page. Looks appetizing. I'll come back and read the whole thing, when I have time.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 01:47:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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