Literature Study GuidesTristram ShandyVol 8 Chapters 1 10 Summary

Tristram Shandy | Study Guide

Laurence Sterne

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Tristram Shandy | Vol. 8, Chapters 1–10 | Summary

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Summary

After once more paying tribute to the beauty of the French countryside, Tristram sets out to "write [his] Uncle Toby's amours." He begins by likening love to cuckoldom: the person who falls in love, like the one whose spouse has been unfaithful, is "at least the third, but generally the last in the house who knows anything about the matter." Seeking to account for the Widow Wadman's interest in Uncle Toby, Tristram observes that curiosity often leads to fancy (fondness or infatuation), which in turn leads to desire.

Laughing at his own tendency to get tangled up in anecdotes, Tristram admits he still has no idea why the Widow Wadman fell for Uncle Toby. It happened, he says, just after Toby had left London to live on the Shandy estate. In their haste to leave town, they forget to bring a bed for Toby, leaving him "constrained" to stay in the guest room at Mrs. Wadman's house. For the widow it is practically love at first sight, but Toby's head is "full of other matters," and 11 years pass without any development in the relationship.

Analysis

Although these chapters are primarily Uncle Toby's story, Tristram takes a slight detour to keep the reader informed of his progressively worsening health. Just a few months ago, Tristram notes in Vol. 8, Chapter 6 that he suffered a serious relapse of his tuberculosis, suggesting that the French climate has eased his illness but in no way cured it. "In two hours," he remarks in a moment of self-apostrophe, "thou lost as many quarts of blood; and hadst thou lost as much more, did not the faculty tell thee—it would have amounted to a gallon?" Characteristically of Tristram, this dangerous episode was provoked not by stress, trauma, or heavy drinking, but by a fit of excessive laughter.

The subject of tuberculosis will crop up again in Vol. 9, by which point Tristram's condition will seem to have grown even direr. In the final chapters of the novel Tristram will even drop a half-apologetic hint about his inability to finish the story properly. For the rest of Vol. 8, however, Tristram is candid about his desire to avoid discussing his health. Recounting Uncle Toby's amorous misadventures is, he finds, a welcome distraction.

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