Life and views of Tristram Shandy, gentleman

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Laurence Sterne, painting by Joshua Reynolds (1760)

Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman ( English The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman ; Tristram Shandy for short ) is a novel published between 1759 and 1767 by the English writer Laurence Sterne (1713-1768).


Sterne had long worked as a country pastor in Yorkshire without being literary. He wrote the novel towards the end of his life, between 1759 and 1766. Tristram Shandy appeared in nine volumes, which were published one after the other. Sterne published the first two volumes himself. After their success, the London publisher Dodsley took over the publication of the next two volumes. The remaining volumes were published by Becket & Dehont in London. The first German translation appeared as early as 1769.


The novel consists of nine volumes, each with around 40 chapters. Some of the chapters contain sub-chapters with their own headings, while other chapters are deliberately left out or only consist of one line. Some chapters are around 25 pages long. In the ninth volume, the 18th and 19th chapters are initially left out and then inserted after the 25th chapter. The typography is characterized by special features such as blackened or marbled pages, inserted scrawly lines and omissions in the form of long rows of stars.

Content and style

The book deals only to a small extent with the person of the first-person narrator Tristram Shandy, whose birth is only described at the end of the third volume. Rather, the main characters are his father Walter Shandy and his uncle Toby. Other common people include Corporal Trim, Pastor Yorick, and Doctor Dr. Slop . The novel takes place between the years 1689 (when Trim joined the army) and 1766 (the present when he wrote the ninth volume).

Both Shandy brothers, Walter and Toby, are characterized by stereotypical behavior patterns. The farmer and former businessman Walter Shandy takes the vicissitudes of life philosophically. When his older son dies, he does not mourn, but indulges in philosophical reflections. The events surrounding Tristram's birth and childhood - the nose dented in at birth, the unsuccessful naming and the unintentional circumcision - are also reasons for extensive discussion. "He has no practical solution for anything, but has a hypothesis ready for everything". Among other things, he wrote the encyclopedia Tristrapaedia named after Tristram, but it remained unfinished. Toby Shandy, called "Uncle Toby", is a former officer who was wounded in the pubic area - during the siege of Namur (1695) - and had to retire from service. His thinking is tied to war experiences. With his loyal companion Trim, also a war veteran, he builds fortifications and reenacts past and current war events. Uncle Toby differs from his brother with his simple-minded but heartfelt way of thinking. Both give rise to numerous indecentities in the text.

Two narrative sequences stand alongside many other topics: the events surrounding Tristram's birth as well as Uncle Toby's wooden hobbyhorse and his courtship for the widow Wadman. The seventh volume stands outside the rest of the plot and deals with a trip by Tristram to France and Italy.

Even the title can be read as a parody, namely of the work on the life and teachings of famous philosophers by the Greek writer Diogenes Laertios . The novel dispenses with the chronological sequence of scenes, which was largely common at the time, and with a stringent plot. Instead, rambling associations are pursued and allowed, thus anticipating formal innovations of the avant-garde of the 20th century, such as the stream of consciousness . In a time of upheaval in writing, which goes hand in hand with industrialization and the dissolution of the poetic standards of French classical music , the novel appears as a satire on new, only developing genres such as the development novel and the autobiography .

The novel works with the interconnection of different time levels. In the 21st chapter of the first volume a sentence by Uncle Toby begins, which is only continued in the sixth chapter of the second volume. A substantial part of the narrated time takes place before the birth of Tristram and deals, for example, with the problem of the baptism of the child in the womb (in difficult and dangerous births), the impact of names on the life of the person who carries them and the obstetrical skills of the midwife and doctor. Another part deals with a hobbyhorse of the father, the nose research, as well as the necessity of hobbies in general. The ninth volume of the novel takes place before the first volume.

“… The machinery of my work is of a species by itself; two contrary motions are introduced into it, and reconcile, which were thought to be at variance with each other. In a word, my work is digressive and it is progressive, too, - and at the same time. "

“[This trick] makes the machinery of my work a very peculiar one; it thereby receives two opposing movements which nevertheless reunite, while one should have believed that they would disturb one another. In a word, my work strays and yet it progresses - and at the same time. "

- Tristram Shandy , Volume I, Chapter 22

The novel reflects both its own effect on the reader and the writing motivation and situation of the writer. In this, he is also a pioneer of the spelling that August Wilhelm Schlegel later referred to as romantic irony . In his work The Romantic School (written 1832/33) Heinrich Heine also highlights this novel as brilliant and innovative.

In his fictional memoirs des Bras Cubas (1880), Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis uses stylistic devices similar to the stars in Tristram Shandy , which testifies to the admiration for this book outside of England - at a time when it was there through the glasses of Victorian morality considered indecent. It became just as important for the literary theory of Viktor Schklowski and the Russian formalists as it was as a model for numerous other bouffonneries .

It shall Tristram Shandy as a precursor of the so-called experimental literature is said, in what is said by the way, is equal.

Illustrations to the novel by Henry William Bunbury (London, 1773)


  • "I would have gladly given up Sterne for five years of my life [...] and if I had known for sure that all my remnants were only eight or ten, with the condition that they had to write whatever, life and opinions, or sermons or travel. "( Gotthold Ephraim Lessing )
  • "Where is the man of understanding and taste [...] [,] who would not rather sell all his other books and his coat and collar in an emergency, for this only one of its kind, nevertheless with all of its author's oddities and naughtiness Inestimable book [...] to acquire. "( Christoph Martin Wieland )
  • "Yorik-Sterne was the most beautiful spirit that has ever worked: whoever reads it immediately feels free and beautiful, his humor is inimitable, and not every humor frees the soul." ( Johann Wolfgang Goethe ) Goethe mentioned stars in his novel Wilhelm Meister's apprenticeship years .
  • "The freest writer of all time." ( Friedrich Nietzsche )
  • "Humorous greatness" ( Thomas Mann )
  • “Even today, after having been in the reading world for 200 years, Laurence Sternes' 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman' is one of the 10 greatest books ever to be written in English . "( Arno Schmidt )
  • Tristram Shandy has been included in the ZEIT library of 100 books . Rudolf Walter Leonhardt wrote the essay on the novel .
  • Based on this novel, Robert K. Merton called his work On the Shoulders of Giants in the subtitle A Shandean Postscript.



  • Volumes 1 & 2: Ann Ward, York 1759.
  • Volumes 3 & 4: Dodsley, London 1761.
  • Volumes 5 & 6: Becket & Dehont, London 1762.
  • Volumes 7 & 8: Becket & Dehont, London 1765.
  • Volume 9: Becket & Dehont, London 1767.
  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Three volumes (including commentary). Edited by Melvyn and Joan New. University Presses of Florida, Gainesville 1978-84; Penguin Classics, 2003, ISBN 0-14-143977-7 .

Audio books and radio plays


  • Helmut Draxler (Ed.): Shandyism. Authorship as a genre. Merz & Solitude, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-937982-17-5 (catalog for the exhibition in the Secession Vienna and the Kunsthaus Dresden )
  • Alexander Huber: Dissolution of the concepts of the paratext: Laurence Sternes “Tristram Shandy” (1759-67). In: Paratexts in English narrative prose of the 18th century. Master's thesis at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, 1997, pp. 77–98 ( PDF ; Chapter 5)
  • Wolfgang Iser : Laurence Sternes "Tristram Shandy". staged subjectivity. Fink, Munich 1987, ISBN 3-8252-1474-5 .
  • Christian Schuldt: Self-observation and the evolution of the art system. Literary studies on Laurence Sternes “Tristram Shandy” and the early novels of Flann O'Brien. Transcript, Bielefeld 2005, ISBN 3-89942-402-6 .
  • Horst Strittmatter: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. In: Kindler's new literary lexicon . Volume 15, p. 968ff.
  • James A. Work: Laurence Sternes "Tristam Shandy". In: Willi Erzgräber (ed.): Interpretations Volume 7 - English literature from Thomas More to Laurence Sterne . Fischer, Frankfurt am Main et al. 1970, pp. 317-342.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b Norbert Kohl : The structure of the Tristram Shandy. In: Laurence Stars: Tristram Shandy. Insel, Frankfurt 1982, ISBN 3-458-32321-X , p. 695.
  2. Norbert Kohl: The structure of the Tristram Shandy. In: Laurence Stars: Tristram Shandy. Insel, Frankfurt 1982, ISBN 3-458-32321-X , p. 706.
  3. Laurence Stars: Tristram Shandy. Insel, Frankfurt 1982, ISBN 3-458-32321-X , p. 83 (German), p. 698 (English)
  4. Quotes about the book at ( Memento of the original from March 14, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , accessed February 27, 2012. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. ^ Wilhelm Robert Richard, Lawrence Marsden Price: Laurence Sterne and Goethe. University of California Press, Berkeley, no ISBN, p. 33, (online)
  6. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche on Sternes Novel: The Freest Writer of All Time , accessed on February 26, 2012.
  7. Wolfram Mauser, Joachim Pfeiffer (ed.): Lachen. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 2006, ISBN 3-8260-3319-1 , p. 204, (online)
  8. ^ Arno Schmidt: Alas, poor Yorick . in: Drummers with the Tsar . Stahlberg, Karlsruhe 1966, p. 231
  9. ^ BR radio play Pool - Stars, Life and Views by Tristram Shandy, Gentleman