The Shandean world : an examination of the effects of narrative technique on the fictional world of Tristram Shandy

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Eckman, John Stuckey
MacGibbon, Alexander D.
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The usefulness of a detailed examination of the fictional world of a novel is demonstrated in a study of Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.Analysis of the fictional world of Tristram Shandy, reveals a binary world which is created by the novel's narrative technique. Distinct outlines of the two fictional worlds of Tristram (TW) and the Shandy Brothers (SBW) can be established, and-the examination of these worlds provides new insights for explicating the structure, coherence, unity, and completeness of Sterne's novel.The duality of fictional worlds in the novel is not merely the reflection of movement between the two time frames of Tristram's present and his past. There are distinguishing differences not only of time, characters, and events, but also of place and quality of experience. As one views these worlds alternately but consistently throughout the novel, the bifocal perspective which emerges creates the depth perception necessary not only to see Tristram as he is, but also to comprehend a composite universe in which the attitudes, conflicts, and complications of the present world of Tristramn both mirror and complement those of the world of the Shandy family.Just as the juxtaposition of two fictional worlds augments the reader's perception of Tristram's character, life, and opinions, so also does it alter significantly the perception of the book he is writing. For it is by means of Tristram's narrative stance, his self-conscious role as author busily attempting to chronicle the events occurring in both worlds, and the perspective created by his dual narration of these events, that the reader comes to see and appreciate his book as an artifact watched in the process of its creation. As the artifact which Tristram is struggling to create, the book itself assumes a fictional role as an object in Tristram's world.In the process of his virtuoso performance in entertaining the reader while failing in the attempt to complete his autobiography, Tristram unwittingly succeeds in disclosing in his present world as much of his spirit and character as a reader requires in order to know him well. The ultimate success, of course, is that of Sterne, who has created a remarkably involuted, complex, and transparent structure of fiction by means of (1) Tristram's intrusive and digressive narration, in which the two fictional worlds emerge simultaneously; (2) the plot of Tristram attempting to write his Life; and (3) the unfolding character of Tristram. Taken together these elements interact and combine to produce a novel which is artful, ingenious, and a structure of paradox and irony.