The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne

Tristram Shandy is one of those classic comic novels, and I’m rather fond of period-specific comedy, so I figured I might like it. Unfortunately, it’s comic in ways which do not, perhaps, translate to its advantage in the eyes of a 20th-century reader, or at least this particular 20th-century reader. Its problems are perhaps chiefly those of obscurity: a lot of the humor derives from topics of culture or contemporary conceptions of science that an educated reader of the time would find mercilessly lampooned, but which fall flat today. A more conspicuous problem is how much of the humor derives from the central conceit of the novel never actually progressing due to its many diversions. This can’t help but make the whole book seem like a grim slog, with no rewards along the way. This might have been considerably mitigated back when the incidental humor was more topical.

Then again, the problem here might be me. Evidently other readers, even readers in the last couple decades, have enjoyed the book, so I might be too hard on the ability of its comic value to age.

See also: Wikipedia.


About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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