Re-Envisioning an Eighteenth-Century Artifact: A Postmodern Reading of Tristram Shandy

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The interjection of a new and dynamically different reading of Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is imperative, if scholars want to clearly see many of the hidden facets of the novel that have gone unexamined because of out-dated scholarship. Ian Watt’s assumption that Sterne “would probably have been the supreme figure among eighteenth-century novelists” (291) if he had not tried to be so odd, and the conclusion that he draws, that “Tristram Shandy is not so much a novel as a parody of a novel” (291), is incorrect. Throughout the thesis, I argue that Sterne was not burlesquing other novelists, but ... continued below

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Burns, Anthony Louis August 2011.

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  • Burns, Anthony Louis

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The interjection of a new and dynamically different reading of Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is imperative, if scholars want to clearly see many of the hidden facets of the novel that have gone unexamined because of out-dated scholarship. Ian Watt’s assumption that Sterne “would probably have been the supreme figure among eighteenth-century novelists” (291) if he had not tried to be so odd, and the conclusion that he draws, that “Tristram Shandy is not so much a novel as a parody of a novel” (291), is incorrect. Throughout the thesis, I argue that Sterne was not burlesquing other novelists, but instead, was engaging with themes that are now being examined by postmodern theories of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jean François Lyotard: themes like the impenetrability of identity (“Don’t puzzle me” (TS 7.33.633)), the insufficiency of language (“Well might Locke write a chapter upon the imperfections of words” (5.6.429)), and the unavailability of permanence (“Time wastes too fast” (9.8.754)). I actively engage with their theories to deconstruct unexamined themes inside Tristram Shandy, and illuminate postmodern elements inside the novel. However, I do not argue that Tristram Shandy is postmodern. Instead, I argue that if the reader examines the novel outside of its usual context inside the eighteenth-century novel, there are themes that are apparent in the narrative which have gone unexamined because of the way it has been classified inside academia, and that postmodernist theory allows for these themes to be re-examined in the postmodern culture in which we now reside.

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  • August 2011

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  • May 17, 2012, 9:47 p.m.

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  • Jan. 21, 2014, 2:19 p.m.

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Burns, Anthony Louis. Re-Envisioning an Eighteenth-Century Artifact: A Postmodern Reading of Tristram Shandy, thesis, August 2011; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc84181/: accessed September 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .