HomeLiterature Study GuidesTristram ShandyVol 7 Chapters 34 43 Summary

Tristram Shandy | Study Guide

Laurence Sterne

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Tristram Shandy | Vol. 7, Chapters 34–43 | Summary

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Summary

The French commissary informs Tristram that he owes money for the remainder of his carriage trip, even though the carriage has broken down and Tristram intends to continue his travels by boat. After some quibbling over these regulations, Tristram pays the official and is about to leave the inn when he realizes he has misplaced his "remarks"—a sheaf of paper on which he has been documenting his travels. He eventually finds them with the man to whom he sold the carriage parts.

With these interruptions out of the way, Tristram cheerfully proceeds to the cathedral to observe the famous clock, only to find it is out of order. Undaunted, he heads to the Jesuit library to look over the Chinese history books, but all the Jesuits in residence at Lyons have fallen ill, so there is no one to admit him to the library. Still in good spirits, he decides to visit the Tomb of the Lovers ... which turns out not to exist at all. Dejected, Tristram barely catches his boat, sails down the Rhône, and arrives in the city of Avignon. Confident that he has left Death many miles behind him, he rides across the south of France, stopping to take part in country fairs and rustic dances.

Analysis

The closing chapters of Vol. 7 are among the most bittersweet in the entire novel. Tristram has gotten a reprieve from his illness, but he knows—as did his 18th-century readers—that such a reprieve is likely to be temporary. Tuberculosis, the illness hounding Tristram, was incurable with the medical treatments of his time. Instead, those affluent enough to travel to a warmer climate did so in the hopes of slowing or even reversing the disease's progress, which was hastened by cold and humidity. Although Tristram has described his trip as an attempt to confuse Death via a sudden change of address, his real motive is likely this "climate cure."

Ultimately, the cure won't work. For the moment, however, Tristram is feeling better physically and emotionally, and his mood is reflected in symbolic cues throughout these chapters. The defunct clock at Lyons is only mildly disappointing to Tristram; on a deeper level, it suggests a reprieve from the "clock time" in which death is inexorably advancing. The absent tomb is (again, despite Tristram's transient disappointment at not getting to see it) a similarly positive sign: a looming and highly anticipated symbol of death which simply fails to show up. After Lyons, Tristram is living once more in the liberating world of subjective time—what English philosopher John Locke called "duration"—rather than the inflexible time of the external world.

Zooming out a bit, it's apparent that Tristram has undergone a remarkable transformation over the course of Vol. 7. When he first landed in France, he was so harried and preoccupied that his fellow travelers thought he was a wanted criminal. In Paris—and in most of the towns along the way—Tristram felt too pressed for time to do more than stop for a night and make a few notes in his journal. But with his arrival on the bright, sparsely populated plains of southern France, something changes: Tristram is no longer afraid to stop and take in the sights. Instead of rushing about as though pursued by demons, he crosses the countryside at a leisurely pace, engaging in conversation with those he meets along the way.

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