Literature Study GuidesTristram ShandyVol 7 Chapters 1 11 Summary

Tristram Shandy | Study Guide

Laurence Sterne

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Tristram Shandy | Vol. 7, Chapters 1–11 | Summary

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Summary

Tristram jokingly recalls a visit from Death, whom he plans to escape by traveling to France. After a long and nauseous sea voyage, Tristram arrives at the port city of Calais, where he stops overnight. He describes the city's major buildings, including the town hall, the church, and a "monstrous high" tower known as the Tour de Guet. After threatening the reader with a 50-page digression on the Siege of Calais (1346–47), Tristram relents and makes his way to Boulogne.

The other travelers, noting Tristram's haste, assume he is either a wanted criminal or a debtor fleeing his creditors. He assures them he has "no debt but the debt of Nature ... and I will pay her every farthing I owe her." From Boulogne, Tristram hurries inland to Montreuil, which he describes as looking beautiful in maps but "pitifully" up close. The town's one redeeming feature, in his opinion, is the innkeeper's daughter Janatone, whom he describes with a mixture of lighthearted affection and unconcealed lust.

Analysis

Ever the jokester, Tristram plays off a near-fatal illness as though it were a house call from a creditor. Death stops by, but Tristram smoothly convinces Death he has the wrong address, since someone as cheerful as Tristram cannot be ready to die. "There must certainly be some mistake in this matter," Death shrugs as he departs.

Underneath the humor, however, there is something desperate about the first chapters of Vol. 7, with Tristram hurrying like a fugitive from one French post town to another. He is tired, irritable, harried, and "splenetic" (i.e., spiteful), but seldom if ever happy. There is a tinge of desperation even in his lusting after Janatone, which might otherwise be taken as a sign of life. Ordinarily quite casual in his praise of female beauty, Tristram dwells on Janatone's actions as she knits a stocking, then hungrily fantasizes about seeing her in "the wettest drapery" and drawing her features with a pencil. Like a splash of cold water, a sobering thought interrupts Tristram's erotic reveries: Janatone, he realizes, will not be young and beautiful forever, but "carries the principles of change within [her] frame."

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