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Structure of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy. Matheson, Janet Mary

Abstract

Basically, a study of the structure of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy involves an analysis of the point of view of both the author and the narrator, and hence of variations on the first-person narration that are found in this novel. Tristram Shandy is related wholly in the authorial and historical present, and the reader as well as the fictional characters is included in the narrator's discourses of Tristram's own world. Hence, one must apply a considerable degree of critical objectivity when examining the narrator's role in the novel. A second problem is the importance of the fictional world that Tristram is ostensibly concerned with – that is, his birth and upbringing within the social environment of Shandy Hall, because the process of Tristram's narration proceeds to usurp most of the novel, shouldering out events at Shandy Hall, which are left half-introduced, or unfinished, or barely hinted at, and we are left with a fairly complete portrait of Tristram Shandy, but not of his life at Shandy Hall. A third problem is that of the inherent structure of the novel, which necessarily is centered around the dominant, controlling voice of the narrator. Although this structures has been dismissed as chaotic or irregular or formless, it does possess definite patterns which allow for the addition of further units. As Tristram Shandy is basically an open-ended novel allowing for infinite expansion, its chronology and subject matter are designed to cohere only in terms of Tristram's entire life; thus we find the events and characters are remembered in the authorial present. The novel moves back and forth on different levels of the historical present, and besides setting out an accumulative amount of remembered biographical detail, presents a projected picture of the mind of an individual in the process of remembering and narrating. A close study of the associational links between chapters clearly reveals the above points, for significantly, these links are all easy to follow and accumulative in effect. The purpose of this thesis is to demonstrate how the structure of the novel proceeds from the dominant single point of view that Tristram represents, how the ostensible autobiographical subject matter is eventually subjugated to this personality in operation, and how the structure of the novel functions efficiently towards this end. Chapter I examines the Tristram persona and Chapter II the Yorick persona, in order to determine how they function in this first-persom narration, and to what combined effect. Chapter III on Shandy Hall examines the characters of the novel, exclusive of Tristram, with a view to motivational factors that may proceed from them and that impinge on his story. And Chapter IV examines the associational and chronological structure of the novel in terms of the actual patterns and linkages Sterne provided his segmentalized novel with, and draws a general conclusion from this study.

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