Experience to Expression in Tristram Shandy

  • Juliet McMaster
  • Rowland McMaster


Tristram Shandy, a novel of which the subject is its own composition, is necessarily concerned with the relation between reality and art, experience and expression, and with the process by which the flesh is transformed into words, and the word is made flesh. Sterne as novelist and Tristram as autobiographer are self-conscious authors par excellence, making their presence as artists the very lifeblood of the book, and scrutinizing the means by which experience can be narrated and a piece of narration can itself have the quality of experience, in an attempt, as Henri Fluchère has put it, “to bridge the gap that separates an artistic creation from reality”.1 When Tristram throws off a phrase, “as long as I live or write (which in my case means the same thing)”,2 he reminds us again that this volume, Tristram Shandy, is in some sense indeed the life as well as the opinions of Tristram Shandy, gentleman. And as Tristram makes the process of ordering chapters, fitting in necessary digressions, manipulating chronology, retaining the reader’s attention — in fact, the whole craft of writing — his constant subject matter, so Sterne has deliberately invented incidents and created characters that, besides having a vital life force of their own, are part of his main subject of the relation between experience and expression, the world of things and the world of words. He explores and articulates this relation particularly through the alignments and conflicts between his four major characters, the Shandy brothers Walter and Toby, and the son of one and servant of the other, Tristram and Trim.


Major Character Artistic Creation Unpleasant Word White Bear Generative Metaphor 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Henri Fluchère, Laurence Sterne: From Tristram to Yorick, trans. and abr. Barbara Bray (London, 1965) p. 23.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentlemen, ed. James Aiken Work (New York, 1940) p. 162; all quotations from Tristram Shandy are from this edition.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Robert J. Griffin, “Tristram Shandy and Language”, College English, 23 (1961) p. 109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    John Traugott, Tristram Shandy’s World: Sterne’s Philosophical Rhetoric (Berkeley, 1954) p. 59.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Alexander Campbell Fraser, vol. 11 (1894; rpt. New York, 1959) p. 132.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See A. R. Towers’s study of the sexual comedy of Tristram Shandy, “Sterne’s Cock and Bull Story”,English Literary History, 24 (1957) 12–29.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Alan Dugald McKillop, “The Reinterpretation of Laurence Sterne”, Etudes Anglaises, 7 (1954) p. 38.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Lewis Perry Curtis (ed.)Letters of Laurence Sterne (Oxford, 1935) p. 143.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    D. W. Jefferson, “Tristram Shandy and the Tradition of Learned Wit”, Essays in Criticism, 1 (1951) 225–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 17.
    See Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, 1957) pp. 308–12.Google Scholar
  11. 18.
    See Michael Ayrton, Tittivulus (London, 1953) pp. 112–13.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Juliet and Rowland McMaster 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juliet McMaster
  • Rowland McMaster

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations