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Tristram Shandy (1760-1770) - Laurence Sterne

Related: unreliable narrator - first experimental novel - British literature - 1700s literature - 1760s - metafiction

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1760-1770) - Laurence Sterne [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The more enduring problem for Tristram Shandy has been not so much its unfilmability as its unreadability. In this regard, it fulfils all the criteria for a classic of English literature: most people of taste and a vague pretension to learning will, of course, have heard of it; will have every intention one day of reading it, save for the interruptions of daily life conspiring against this happy eventuality; will even have a shrewdish idea what the book is about (or not about); but will admit, under gentle pressure, to be waiting for the Andrew Davies TV adaptation. --Telegraph.co.uk [Dec 2006]

A Cock and Bull Story (2005) - Michael Winterbottom [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Michael Winterbottom is no stranger to literary adaptation. Both Jude and The Claim were drawn from works by Thomas Hardy. Nor is the versatile filmmaker a stranger to the post-modern romp, like 24 Hour Party People. ... It's a film about the making of a film, effortlessly shifting between Tristram’s tumultuous birth and his frustrated adulthood--bogged down in the writing of his life story--and between fiction and (what appears to be) fact. ... It may sound like Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, but in spirit, it more closely resembles Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones. ... Tristram Shandy isn’t just one of Winterbottom’s best films--it's one of the year’s best. --Kathleen C. Fennessy


The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (or, more briefly, Tristram Shandy) is a novel by Laurence Sterne. It was published in nine volumes, the first two appearing in 1760, and seven others following over the next ten years. It was not always highly thought of by other writers (Samuel Johnson responded that, "Nothing odd will do long"), but its bawdy humour was popular with London society.

Sterne's text is filled with allusions and references to the leading thinkers and writers of the 17th and 18th centuries. Pope, Locke, and Swift were all major influences on Sterne and Tristram Shandy. It's easy to see that the satires of Pope and Swift formed much of the humor of Tristram Shandy, but Swift's sermons and Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding contributed ideas and frameworks that Sterne explored throughout his novel. Sterne's engagement with the science and philosophy of his day was extensive, however, and the sections on obstetrics and fortifications, for instance, indicate that he had a grasp of the main issues then current in those fields.

Three influences on Tristram Shandy overshadow all others: Rabelais, Cervantes, and John Locke. Sterne had written an earlier piece called A Rabelaisian Fragment, which indicates his familiarity with the work of the French monk. But the earlier work is not needed to see the influence of Rabelais on Tristram Shandy, which is evident in multiple allusions, as well as in the overall tone of bawdy humor centered on the body. The first scene in Tristram Shandy, where Tristram's mother interrupts his father during the sex that leads to Tristram's conception, testifies to Sterne's debt to Rabelais. The shade of Cervantes is similarly present throughout Sterne's novel. The frequent references to Rosinante, the character of Uncle Toby (who resembles Don Quixote in many ways) and Sterne's own description of his characters' 'Cervantic humour', along with the genre-defying structure of Tristram Shandy, which owes much to the second part of Cervantes' novel, all demonstrate the influence of Cervantes. The novel also makes brilliant use of John Locke's theories of empiricism, or the way we assemble what we know of ourselves and our world from the "association of ideas" that come to us from our five senses. Sterne is by turns respectful and satirical of Locke's theories, using the association of ideas to construct characters' "hobby-horses," or whimsical obsessions, that both order and disorder their lives in different ways.

The novel, as it stands, is seen by some as an elaborate and ingeniously-executed pun. Today, the novel is seen as a forerunner of later stream of consciousness and postmodern writing.

Tristram Shandy has been adapted as a graphic novel by cartoonist Martin Rowson. It has also been adapted on film in 2006 as A Cock and Bull Story, directed by Michael Winterbottom.

The Skull and Bones secret society is rumoured [2] to use characters from Tristram Shandy in its rituals.

The novel has been cited by John Updike as the one novel he wants to read before he dies. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Life_and_Opinions_of_Tristram_Shandy%2C_Gentleman [Jan 2006]

A Cock and Bull Story is a 2006 British film directed by Michael Winterbottom. It is an adaptation of the novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne.

In the United States, the film is being released as Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Cock_and_Bull_Story [Jan 2006]

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