HomeLiterature Study GuidesTristram ShandyVol 6 Chapters 11 20 Summary

Tristram Shandy | Study Guide

Laurence Sterne

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Tristram Shandy | Vol. 6, Chapters 11–20 | Summary

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Summary

Tristram continues telling the story of Lieutenant Le Fever and his son. When Le Fever died, he says, Uncle Toby and the lieutenant's son Billy were the chief mourners at the funeral, with Yorick delivering the sermon. (Tristram reiterates his offer to publish Yorick's sermons if readers are interested.) After settling the late lieutenant's accounts, Toby gave Billy a rudimentary education and enrolled him at a boarding school, where he remained until age 17. At that point Billy took up his father's sword and became a soldier, but fell ill during the campaign and sought passage home from France. Back in the main narrative timeline, Dr. Slop spreads wildly exaggerated rumors about the extent of young Tristram's injury.

Walter has resolved to put Tristram into breeches (in 18th-century England, both boys and girls wore gowns during the first few years of life), having "pro'd and conn'd" the decision at length and argued about it with Mrs. Shandy. As is his usual practice, Walter has also consulted the ancient and medieval historians, who—he finds—say much about fashion in general but nothing about breeches. Finally, frustrated with the fruitlessness of his research, he simply orders a pair of breeches to be made for Tristram.

Analysis

These chapters, along with those immediately preceding, are Uncle Toby's moment to shine. Early volumes of Tristram Shandy have painted Toby as a harmless but lovable eccentric, with hints here and there of his kindheartedness and gallantry. Vols. 8 and 9 will thrust Toby into an awkward romance with the Widow Wadman, his neighbor and not-so-secret admirer. There, his clumsiness in matters of love will make him an object of sympathy, not admiration. Here, in the middle of the novel, Toby gets a touch of character development that helps to explain why Trim and the servants revere him so much. Given the chance to help a fellow soldier, he does everything in his power to give Le Fever a chance at recovering his health, and then, when those measures fail, to ease his death and take care of his orphaned son. These actions, motivated by both a generous spirit and a sense of military camaraderie, make a deep impression on Corporal Trim.

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