Literature Study GuidesTristram ShandyVol 3 Chapters 11 20 Summary

Tristram Shandy | Study Guide

Laurence Sterne

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "Tristram Shandy Study Guide." Course Hero. 15 Nov. 2017. Web. 14 Dec. 2018. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, November 15). Tristram Shandy Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved December 14, 2018, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "Tristram Shandy Study Guide." November 15, 2017. Accessed December 14, 2018.


Course Hero, "Tristram Shandy Study Guide," November 15, 2017, accessed December 14, 2018,

Tristram Shandy | Vol. 3, Chapters 11–20 | Summary



The next chapter is a facing translation of the excommunication formula: Latin on the left and (rather inexact) English on the right. Obadiah's name—since he is the one who tied the knots in the doctor's bag—is substituted in for that of the possessed person. For Tristram, the pamphlet's exhaustive and often violent catalog of curses shows how unoriginal modern people are in swearing oaths.

Susannah, the maidservant, comes rushing downstairs and reports a state of utter chaos in the bedroom. Both the nurse and the midwife have injured themselves, and Mrs. Shandy is no farther along in her labor. Dr. Slop agrees to come up and take a look, but first he fumbles about in his bag for his forceps. He then, to demonstrate the safety of his technique, clamps the forceps around Uncle Toby's hands, which are scratched up and severely bruised as a result. Walter expresses relief "that the experiment was not first made upon my child's head-piece."

Dr. Slop finally goes up to the bedchamber, leaving Uncle Toby and Walter to remark upon the long time he has taken in arriving and getting ready to deliver the baby. This leads to some lengthy comments from Walter on the nature of time and experience, which Toby patiently listens to but fails to understand. Frustrated, Walter falls silent and soon dozes off, with Toby falling asleep shortly thereafter.

Having disposed of his characters for a moment, Tristram presents the preface to his book. He addresses himself specifically to the "Anti-Shandeans" in the audience, wishing them the wit and judgment to appreciate his work better. Wit, he argues—adding another layer to his digression—is no good without judgment, or vice versa—though many people have one without the other. Those with "great wigs" and "long beards" (i.e., lawyers, statesmen, and scholars), he announces, are still free to read his life story if they like, but it is not written with their tastes in mind.


The mockery of Slop's Catholicism continues in this scene. Ernulfus, the man credited with writing down the litany of curses, was Bishop of Rochester in the late 11th and early 12th centuries—about 400 years before English Reformation. When the work was reprinted in England in 1681, the editors described it as "The Pope's Dreadful Curse" and presented it—part of a campaign to solidify Protestantism in Great Britain and Ireland—as an example of what Britons could expect should they choose to reenter communion with the Catholic Church. Walter, who has a strong distaste for "Popish" beliefs and practices, is following in this anti-Catholic vein when he offers Slop the pamphlet as a primer on how to curse. Certainly, to a modern audience, the hyper-detailed and anatomical nature of the curses makes them seem silly rather than severe, the opposite of their intended effect.

Tristram's address to the "Anti-Shandeans" is another highlight of these chapters. Although Tristram spends a suspicious amount of time defending himself from imagined critics, the Anti-Shandeans—the people who voiced disapproval of Tristram Shandy—were quite real. After the publication of Vols. 1 and 2 a flurry of pamphlets appeared in London criticizing the books as immoral or, in some cases, just plain ridiculous. Critics took issue with almost every aspect of the novel, from its crude jokes to its excessive use of asterisks. At least a few of the so-called Anti-Shandeans seem to have missed the point altogether: Thomas Keymer, author of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy: A Casebook (2006), cites one 1765 review that derided the novel as "a riddle, without an object." Throughout the novel Tristram will engage with these critics in a variety of ways, sometimes appealing to their good will, and sometimes ridiculing them for their humorlessness and lack of judgment.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Tristram Shandy? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!