Literature Study GuidesTristram ShandyVol 8 Chapters 31 35 Summary

Tristram Shandy | Study Guide

Laurence Sterne

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Tristram Shandy | Vol. 8, Chapters 31–35 | Summary

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Summary

Walter Shandy warns Toby to be careful in his courtship of Mrs. Wadman, since, according to Plato, there are two kinds of love—one that "excites to the desire of philosophy and truth," and another that "excites to desire, simply." Yorick and Mrs. Shandy beg to differ: in their views, love is an unequivocally good thing. After all, says Mrs. Shandy, it "keeps peace in the world" and "replenishes the earth." "'Tis Virginity," Dr. Slop interjects, "which fills paradise."

Later, Walter sits down to write a "Letter of Instruction" to Toby for the management of his love affair. As usual, he offers impractically precise suggestions, telling Toby how often to shave, what to eat, how to dress, and what kind of books to encourage Mrs. Wadman to read. Toby, he insists, should cultivate an air of mystery to excite her curiosity, refraining even from holding her hand for as long as possible. While the letter is being written, Toby prepares for the "attack," which commences the following morning at 11 o'clock sharp. Walter and Mrs. Shandy shamelessly spy on Toby as he makes his way to Mrs. Wadman's house.

Analysis

For Walter Shandy, long-winded and off-base explanations are more than a character flaw: they're practically a way of life. His attempts to guide Toby in matters of courtship are tinged with dramatic irony, since—despite his apparent proneness to falling in love—Walter's approach to his own marriage is utterly unromantic. He regards both love and lust with suspicion, as defects in human nature, and, as Tristram points out in Vol. 1, Chapter 1, he schedules sex with Mrs. Shandy once a month, "to get [it] out of the way." Making love, in Walter's view, is about as exciting as winding up a house clock, and it serves a similarly utilitarian purpose: producing heirs to carry on the Shandy legacy. Moreover, many of Walter's suggestions are bizarrely specific, such as the instruction to "shave the whole top of thy crown clean, once at least every four or five days, but oftener if convenient." It is a stroke of good fortune that Toby, in his nervous and impressionable state, never ends up reading the letter.

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