Literature Study GuidesTristram ShandyVol 6 Chapters 1 10 Summary

Tristram Shandy | Study Guide

Laurence Sterne

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Tristram Shandy | Vol. 6, Chapters 1–10 | Summary

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Summary

Tristram begins the new volume by expressing gratitude for having safely navigated the "wilderness" of his story so far. Walter continues discussing his plans for the young Tristram's education, and Yorick eggs him on by mentioning examples of famous child prodigies. Meanwhile, Susannah and Dr. Slop squabble about how to apply the "cataplasm" (poultice or plaster) to Tristram's wound. In the course of the argument, Susannah accidentally sets Slop's wig on fire, and the cataplasm is ruined. Walter plans to seek out a tutor for his son, but his list of requirements is impossibly strict. Uncle Toby proposes the son of the late Lieutenant Le Fever as a candidate, and Tristram (in his capacity as narrator) realizes he still hasn't told the lieutenant's story.

Lieutenant Le Fever, Tristram says, was a dying soldier who happened to be lodging at an inn near Uncle Toby's house. Toby did all he could to ease Le Fever's suffering and even attempted to save his life by hiring a physician, but to no avail. When death was imminent, Toby promised to look after Le Fever's son Billy.

Analysis

Tristram, in his chatty little asides to the reader, does his best to cultivate the impression of a random, rambling work in which nothing is premeditated by more than a chapter or two. Behind this façade of spontaneity, however, Sterne is constantly balancing and rebalancing the novel to keep things from getting stale. Whether he succeeds has been a matter of critical debate for the past 250 years, give or take. In Vol. 6 Sterne decides it's high time for a serious, sentimental moment after all the phallic jokes and mock-encyclopedia chapters in Vol. 5. Bobby's death might have been expected to serve as this sort of emotional counterweight, but Sterne instead chose to play the eulogy scene (Vol. 5, Chapters 12–14) for laughs, causing Walter's high-minded musings about death to land with an awkward thud. The death of Le Fever, in contrast, is about as serious as Tristram Shandy gets. Only Tristram's reflections on his own mortality (Vol. 7) and the inexorable passage of time (Vol. 9, Chapter 8) come close to the high-water mark established in these chapters.

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