Literature Study GuidesTristram ShandyTitle Page And Dedication Summary

Tristram Shandy | Study Guide

Laurence Sterne

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Tristram Shandy | Title Page and Dedication | Summary

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Tristram Shandy has over 300 chapters that are organized into 9 volumes of varying lengths. Chapters have been combined for the purpose of summary and analysis in this study guide.

Summary

The title page to Vols. 1 and 2 is, for the most part, typical for an English novel of its time. It is distinguished only by a short Greek epigraph, which in English reads: "Not things, but opinions about things, trouble men." Before the novel properly begins, Sterne also offers a highly complimentary dedication to "Mr. Pitt" (i.e., Lord William Pitt, 1708–78). He urges Pitt to accept the book as a humble token of the author's admiration, in the hope that its amusing contents will provide relief from the cares of statecraft.

Analysis

Typographically unremarkable, the title page to Tristram Shandy offers only a brief glimpse of the exuberant weirdness to follow. The epigraph comes from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus (55–135 CE), who urged philosophical self-cultivation as a means of coping with life's inevitable adversities. This seemingly incidental quote sets up one of the novel's greatest dramatic ironies, since Walter Shandy's extensive reading of philosophical works—including Epictetus's writings—has just the opposite effect: armed with a knowledge of worst-case scenarios, he tends to overreact to even slight misfortunes. Brian Michael Norton, whose 2006 translation of the epigraph is used above, regards the distinction between objective reality and subjective opinion as a central theme of the novel.

William Pitt, the dedicatee of Tristram Shandy, was Great Britain's de facto leader during the Seven Years' War (1756–63) and was widely credited for the eventual victory over France. At the time the first volumes of Tristram Shandy appeared, Pitt led the House of Commons; in 1766 he was created Earl of Chatham, joined the House of Lords, and became the prime minister of the United Kingdom. In his final years Lord Pitt was most notable for his attempts to broker a peaceful solution to the incipient Revolutionary War.

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