Literature Study GuidesTristram ShandyVol 8 Chapters 21 30 Summary

Tristram Shandy | Study Guide

Laurence Sterne

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Tristram Shandy | Vol. 8, Chapters 21–30 | Summary



Continuing his tale, Trim tells of the leg massages administered by the Beguine to help his knee wound heal. The anecdote grows increasingly erotic until Toby interrupts the story—to the disappointment of Mrs. Wadman, who has been eavesdropping. Coming out of hiding, she pretends to have something in her eye and asks Toby to take a look. He obliges and finds himself smitten by Mrs. Wadman's beauty. Tristram spends a chapter praising the loveliness of the Widow Wadman's eyes.

Walter Shandy, in contrast to his brother, has a low opinion of love, which he rails against in poems and speeches. Toby, however, calmly submits to having fallen in love with Mrs. Wadman, finally announcing the fact to Corporal Trim. Appealing to Toby's martial instincts, Trim promises to "lay down [a] plan of attack," and Toby asks the corporal to serve as his "aid de camp." They prepare materials for the upcoming "siege," beginning with Toby's finest clothes and wig. Mrs. Wadman, meanwhile, wonders whether Toby's groin wound has left him impotent, and Bridget, her maidservant, promises to get some answers out of Corporal Trim.


Walter Shandy's dour attitude toward love is, for Tristram, just one of his father's many little quirks. As with other human passions, Walter is not immune to love; on the contrary, he is all too prone to it and resents the vulnerability it induces. He gives voice to this predicament in his writings, which include "the bitterest Philippics [angry speeches or tirades] ... that ever man wrote." Despite these outbursts, Walter is not fanatical in his condemnation of love: although he values his intellect, possibly to excess, and sees emotionality as a weakness, Walter regards his own flaws not with anger or scorn but with a "subacid kind of drollish impatience"—a kind of gently mocking sarcasm. He describes the eye, for example—which not coincidentally is Mrs. Wadman's main weapon against Toby—as a "Devil" capable of working great "mischief," thus comically exaggerating the threat posed by an attractive gaze. Tristram, as Vol. 8, Chapters 11–13 have already shown, shares his father's "subacid" response to the idea of being in love. Like Walter he uses the written word both to explore the feeling and to distance himself from it.

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