HomeLiterature Study GuidesTristram ShandyVol 7 Chapters 12 22 Summary

Tristram Shandy | Study Guide

Laurence Sterne

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Tristram Shandy | Vol. 7, Chapters 12–22 | Summary

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Summary

Still preoccupied with his own mortality, Tristram sets out for his next stop at four in the morning. "So much of motion," he explains, "is so much of life, and so much of joy," but "to stand still, or get on but slowly, is death and the devil." As he travels, he muses on the decline of Christian belief in his time and prophesies that the old Greek and Roman deities will "come into play again." The carriage makes its way through several smaller towns before stopping at Amiens. Tristram, still seriously ill, finds himself annoyed by the difficulty of getting a satisfactory nap during his journey.

Tristram finally arrives in Paris, but he finds the city much less impressive than he expected. Begrudgingly slipping into the role of a travel writer, he adds up the number of "grand Hôtels" and the number of streets in the city but offers no description of individual landmarks, except for a rather grandiose inscription on the entrance of the Louvre.

He next comments on the poor treatment of French horses, who—he suggests—are fed on curses rather than on grain. The words used to encourage the horses, he says, are too indelicate to print, so he will get at them indirectly by telling a story. His anecdote concerns an abbess and a novice (a woman training to be a nun) who, while traveling in a mule-drawn carriage, find the mules suddenly unwilling to budge. The abbess whistles, shouts, and raps her cane against the carriage floor, but the mules pay no heed.

Analysis

Tristram's mood continues to deteriorate in these chapters, despite a few temporary sparks of liveliness. His reflections on motion and life nicely summarize his general approach to narration, but they also suggest a rushed, even frenzied approach to living: cram in all the experiences you can while you still can. In embracing this way of life—getting up before dawn to move on to the next town, barely stopping to see Paris—it's easy to see Tristram is not really living. Rather, he is running from death, just as he joked he would do at the beginning of the volume.

Motion, to an extent, may indeed represent life and joy, but motion for its own sake can be joyless, as Tristram's hustling about in these chapters tends to be. In any case, there's a marked difference between the vivacious bustle of Tristram Shandy as a whole and the grim, dyspeptic hurry of these chapters. Fortunately for both narrator and reader, a well-timed digression presents itself in Chapters 21–25. The story of the swearing nuns brightens the mood and, just as importantly, pulls Tristram out of his ruminations for several chapters at a stretch.

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