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  • Yet Another Sign of the Apocalypse

    Posted by Mitch Townsend on January 27th, 2006 (All posts by )

    If Jonathan’s sartorial taste were not enough, an unmistakable sign of the end times was recently revealed. Someone has made a movie out of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. If you have never read this book, I weep tears of joy on your behalf. Assuming, that is, that you go on to read it — otherwise, I just weep. The book was published in 1760, which is only 20 years after the first novel written in English, the abominable Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (yes, it is every bit as bad as the title indicates, plus a 10% bonus of awfulness for being written in epistolary form — only Tom Jones, which brutally satirizes it, justifies the waste of ink on this steaming lump of sirreverence). Tristram Shandy wanders off on digressions, digressions from digressions, subplots in flashbacks, flashbacks in subplots, asides to the reader, imagined dialogues with the reader, and pages printed in marble pattern to indicate the impenetrability of a discussion of noses. It affixed a “kick me” note to the diaper of the infant English novel. Think of going from Bach to Zappa in 20 years.

    I haven’t seen it. It’s safe to say, though, that it will likely depart somewhat from the text. I gather that the movie is a movie about making a movie out of the book, which seems about right, but only if the movie is never quite finished (Tristram only gets to about age seven in this fictional autobiography, despite the thickness of the book).

    To give a small taste of the book, here is it’s dedication, which is found in Chapters 8 and 9 of Book I:

    ‘My Lord,
    I maintain this to be a dedication, notwithstanding its singularity in the three great essentials of matter, form and place: I beg, therefore, you will accept it as such, and that you will permit me to lay it, with the most respectful humility, at your Lordship’s feet—when you are upon them, — which you can be when you please; —and that is, my Lord, whenever there is occasion for it, and I will add, to the best purposes too. I have the honour to be,
    My Lord,
    Your Lordship’s most obedient,
    and most devoted,
    and most humble servant,
    Tristram Shandy.’

    Chapter 1.IX.

    I solemnly declare to all mankind, that the above dedication was made for no one Prince, Prelate, Pope, or Potentate, — Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, or Baron, of this, or any other Realm in Christendom; — nor has it yet been hawked about, or offered publicly or privately, directly or indirectly, to any one person or personage, great or small; but is honestly a true Virgin-Dedication untried on, upon any soul living.

    I labour this point so particularly, merely to remove any offence or objection which might arise against it from the manner in which I propose to make the most of it; — which is the putting it up fairly to public sale; which I now do.

    — Every author has a way of his own in bringing his points to bear; — for my own part, as I hate chaffering and higgling for a few guineas in a dark entry; — I resolved within myself, from the very beginning, to deal squarely and openly with your Great Folks in this affair, and try whether I should not come off the better by it.

    If therefore there is any one Duke, Marquis, Earl, Viscount, or Baron, in these his Majesty’s dominions, who stands in need of a tight, genteel dedication, and whom the above will suit, (for by the bye, unless it suits in some degree, I will not part with it) — it is much at his service for fifty guineas; — which I am positive is twenty guineas less than it ought to be afforded for, by any man of genius.

    My Lord, if you examine it over again, it is far from being a gross piece of daubing, as some dedications are. The design, your Lordship sees, is good, — the colouring transparent, — the drawing not amiss; — or to speak more like a man of science, — and measure my piece in the painter’s scale, divided into 20, — I believe, my Lord, the outlines will turn out as 12, — the composition as 9, — the colouring as 6, — the expression 13 and a half, — and the design, — if I may be allowed, my Lord, to understand my own design, and supposing absolute perfection in designing, to be as 20, — I think it cannot well fall short of 19. Besides all this, — there is keeping in it, and the dark strokes in the Hobby-Horse, (which is a secondary figure, and a kind of back-ground to the whole) give great force to the principal lights in your own figure, and make it come off wonderfully; — and besides, there is an air of originality in the tout ensemble.

    Be pleased, my good Lord, to order the sum to be paid into the hands of Mr. Dodsley, for the benefit of the author; and in the next edition care shall be taken that this chapter be expunged, and your Lordship’s titles, distinctions, arms, and good actions, be placed at the front of the preceding chapter: All which, from the words, De gustibus non est disputandum, and whatever else in this book relates to Hobby-Horses, but no more, shall stand dedicated to your Lordship. — The rest I dedicate to the Moon, who, by the bye, of all the Patrons or Matrons I can think of, has most power to set my book a-going, and make the world run mad after it.

    Bright Goddess,
    If thou art not too busy with Candid and Miss Cunegund’s affairs, — take Tristram Shandy’s under thy protection also.

    I will now dismount from my hobbyhorse.

     

    6 Responses to “Yet Another Sign of the Apocalypse”

    1. Allan Says:

      Actually what’s interesting about the book is its premise– guy starts out to write his autobiography starting with conception, and he goes into so much detail and digresses so much that two-thirds of the way through the book he still hasn’t been born, Yet the digressions seem so natural and are often so hilarious that you just want him to keep going with them. First two thirds of the book was a work of genius. Didn’t get much out of the last part of the book.

    2. Dave Schuler Says:

      Isn’t Joseph Andrews the parody of Pamela? And, yes, I found Tristram Shandy very hard sledding. But Fielding is just sublime.

    3. Mitch Says:

      Fielding actually took three cracks at Richardson. Each succeeding book moved further from Richardson’s original, I would guess because Pamela was not only bad but insubstantial. First, there was Shamela, pretty straightforward and funny, but rather nasty (well warranted). The title character, Shamela Andrews, is not so concerned with preserving her “virtue” as obtaining the best price for it. Fielding nailed Richardson for having it both ways: titillation and prudery. Joseph Andrews reversed the sexes & started telling the same story as Pamela to expose its stupidity, but departed from Richardson’s nonsense about halfway through to advance the plot and characters. Tom Jones has the same theme of the seduction of the innocent, again with a young man, but goes off in another direction even earlier than Joseph Andrews. Also, the latter two books are more picaresque than the first, so Fielding used more Cervantes and less Richardson as he went, but there’s still a little Richardson there. I really think that Tom Jones is the book that Joseph Andrews meant to be.

      How about Smollett? Do you like him? Not in the same league, of course, but I found his stuff very funny.

    4. Enoch Says:

      Perfect literature for much needed slumber. Though, it’s interesting to note, the little piker, Master Tristram Shandy, had a hobbyhorse. ‘Twas it a style whereby the head of a horse is attached to a stick? Perhaps, pray tell, his trusty steed was cinched to a rocker?

    5. Helen Says:

      Hmm. I was under the impression that the first English novels were written by Defoe, somewhat earlier. All Fielding’s novels are brilliant but “Tristram Shandy” is hard going. I sometimes think Sterne must have known that one day there would be English departments in universities.

    6. Evil Pundit Says:

      Sorry to bother you again, Mitch, but I’m still getting the same error message. I’ve successfully emailed support at your site, so I think it’s a problem with your mailbox.

      From my experience, I think it could be because your email software is set up to leave the original messages on the server when it downloads copies to your computer. So when you clean out your local inbox, the server inbox remains full.

      Most email software has an option somewhere to clear messages from the mail server and this might be the way to go.