Tristram Shandy Book 1, Chapters 15-19 Summary

Laurence Sterne

Book 1, Chapters 15-19 Summary

Referring to a legal document that has several clauses dictating the terms of delivery should Mrs. Shandy became pregnant, Tristram returns to the story of his conception. The document states that Mrs. Shandy has the right to choose to give birth in London. However, one year before Tristram's birth, Mrs. Shandy has a "false alarm" (possibly a false pregnancy or a miscarriage) but demands to be taken to London; then she comes home without a baby. Because of this waste of a trip to London, Mr. Shandy adds another clause to the legal document so that should Mrs. Shandy become pregnant again, she has no other choice than to have the baby delivered at the Shandy estate.

Not only does Mr. Shandy come home from London without a son (the time before Tristram was born), he also was pulled away from his estate at a time when his crops were due to be harvested. Therefore, on the long trip back to the Shandy home, Mrs. Shandy suffered her husband's rants of anger and intolerance that she later told Tristram's Uncle Toby would have tried the patience of any human being on earth.

A year later, after Mrs. Shandy knows that she has conceived another baby, she begins to make immediate plans. She researches the midwives who are available and settles on a woman who lives nearby. Mr. Shandy, however, has other ideas. Since it was his decision not to take his wife to London so she might give birth, Mr. Shandy fears that he will be blamed if anything should happen during the delivery, such as if the baby or his wife should die. So he does his own research for a midwife and chooses "a man midwife." Unfortunately, Mrs. Shandy will have nothing to do with her husband's choice.

Mr. Shandy tries everything he can think of to convince his wife that the man-midwife is a more proper choice. However, no matter what argument he makes in favor of the man-midwife, Mrs. Shandy will not give her consent. In the end, Mrs. Shandy wins. The old female midwife is employed. Mr. Shandy, Tristram's Uncle Toby, and the man-midwife sit in the parlor during the birth, drinking wine.

Tristram then discusses the choosing of his name. He first mentions two aspects of his father's personality. First Tristram states that Mr. Shandy is a great orator. Second, Tristram's father has very strong opinions about a person's name. Some names, such as "Andrew," Mr. Shandy likens to a negative number in algebra—worse than nothing. "William" holds a fairly high grade in Mr. Shandy's estimation. However, there is one name that Mr. Shandy has an "unconquerable aversion" to: "Tristram." This name, to Mr. Shandy, was akin to the word "nincompoop." Tristram feels sorry for his father, having so detested his name and yet being forced to speak it several times a day.