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Dorothy Van Ghent and Tristram Shandy's Primary Purposes

Uploaded by joe on Jan 03, 2006

The uniqueness of Tristram Shandy has pushed critics to see many different topics as the central concern of the work. It may even be an impossible task to pinpoint which of two seemingly contradictory themes Tristram is pursuing, because Tristram does not give us much of a beginning, middle, or end, preferring to stream along in digressive contentment. However, as Jean-Jacques Mayoux writes, it may be possible to “transcend subjectivity by seeking coherence.” In other words, by examining a theory under the lens of the relevant facts, we should able to see how much water it holds. It is with this in mind that we turn to “On Tristram Shandy”, a paper by Dorothy Van Ghent, which makes several claims about Tristram Shandy that cannot be substantiated as motifs in the forefront of Tristram’s consciousness in light of those suggested by Mayoux and Howard Anderson. To prove this, we will use Mayoux’s concept of cohesiveness, along with the standard scientific principle that the simplest answer is usually the correct one.

It may appear odd to contrast Mayoux with Van Ghent, especially because both begin with identical ideas: Mayoux argues that, in the book, “the human world is made up of microcosmic, enclosed units, of windowless monads” , while Van Ghent contends that the mind is a “monad…[an] elemental unit of energy that [has] ‘mirrors but no windows’”. However, from here, Mayoux and Van Ghent diverge. While Mayoux seeks to assert three propositions, “On Tristram Shandy” has no easily discernable central thesis or theses; rather, it contains an evolving theory. Van Ghent moves from Liebniz’s monads to ask, “What is the action of Tristram Shandy?” She answers, “Sterne’s project…was to analyze and represent in his novel the creative process.”

While it is obvious that Tristram lays bare his own creative process in the novel, it is a suspect claim that this is his primary objective. Indeed, it is argued that Henry Fielding does a similar examination of the novel in Tom Jones, but Fielding himself supports this claim throughout his book. And whereas Fielding’s ruminations on the novel are pointed at the edification of the reader, Tristram offers his more as intimate observations in the dialog he is having with the reader. Furthermore, a sense that the project of Tristram Shandy is a literary analysis...

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Uploaded by:   joe

Date:   01/03/2006

Category:   Literature

Length:   8 pages (1,786 words)

Views:   2522

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