HomeLiterature Study GuidesTristram ShandyVol 8 Chapters 11 20 Summary

Tristram Shandy | Study Guide

Laurence Sterne

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Tristram Shandy | Vol. 8, Chapters 11–20 | Summary

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Summary

Tristram describes love and lust as dreadful conditions that make a person agitated and indecisive. "Alphabetically speaking," he says, love is "one of the most Agitating, Bewitching, Confounded, Devilish affairs of life" ... with the adjectives continuing down to R for "Ridiculous." Resuming his story, he tells of the Widow Wadman's habit of spying on Uncle Toby through the branches of her arbor.

Tristram praises Mrs. Wadman's "generalship" in asking Toby to point out features on his military map, which eventually leads to his hand touching hers. The widow's "attacks," he says, are very gradual but have the cumulative effect of piquing Toby's interest in her.

The plot now rejoins the main timeline from the end of Vol. 6, when Toby and Trim were forced to retire from fort-building. The two men are shown dismantling the rest of their fortifications, with Trim attempting to tell Toby a story to cheer him up. Trim is eventually led to recount his own experience of falling in love with a Beguine (a woman charged with caring for the sick) who tended to him after he was wounded in battle.

Analysis

As if infected by the military spirit which possesses Toby and Trim, Tristram himself starts using the language of attacks and maneuvers to describe the Widow Wadman's approach to courtship. Mrs. Wadman soon reveals herself to be a cunning tactician who is well aware of her enemy's weaknesses. Toby, like the holder of a heavily fortified town, requires a protracted "siege" on the part of the lady who wishes to win his heart, and Mrs. Wadman has seemingly committed herself to playing the long game. Toby's resistance to being wooed is not, however, a sign of cold-heartedness or lack of feeling, but only of obtuseness: for the longest time he is apparently unable to recognize that Mrs. Wadman is flirting with him at all. Arguably, this works to Mrs. Wadman's advantage, since it gives her the opportunity to study her opponent up close.

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