Tristram Shandy Book 2, Chapters 6-10 Summary

Laurence Sterne

Book 2, Chapters 6-10 Summary

Mrs. Shandy's labor has begun and she tells her maid to call for the old female midwife. Upon learning that Mrs. Shandy is soon to give birth, Walter sends his servant, Obadiah, to fetch the male midwife, Dr. Slop, whom he prefers. After this is done, Walter and Toby enter into a discussion of why Mrs. Shandy would prefer the old female midwife to Dr. Slop. Toby believes that Mrs. Shandy wants the female midwife because of modesty. Mrs. Shandy does not want a man to see her in such an intimate way.

Walter Shandy thinks that Toby's ideas about women are ridiculous. To Walter's mind, Dr. Slop is more educated and better trained and should be the person to whom the life of his wife and future son should be entrusted. Toby confesses that he knows very little about women, and he uses his failed attempt some years before at a love affair to a widow named Wadman as proof. This failed affair left Toby in shock, a shock he could have avoided had he gained prior knowledge of how to deal with women.

In the midst of their conversation, there is a knock at the door. At this point, the narrator goes into a discussion of time as it appears in storytelling. Though it seems too short a period of time since the mention of Obadiah's having been sent off to find Dr. Slop, the narrator reminds the reader that many chapters have gone by since the first time he mentioned that Mrs. Shandy was upstairs preparing to give birth. In other words, time is very elusive as well as elastic in storytelling, especially when the author often digresses into other topics.

However, the doctor is there, even though he lives eight miles away. To counter any critics, the narrator adds another detail to the story: Dr. Slop, having known that it was near the time of delivery, might have been on his way to the Shandys' home to check on his patient. Thus there is no need to allot him enough time to travel the eight miles.

Dr. Slop is a short man, under five feet tall. When he appears at the Shandy's door, he is splattered with mud. The reason for his disarray is that upon Obadiah's haste to ride to the doctor's home as quickly as possible, he all but ran the doctor over as he rounded the corner of the Shandy's house, making Dr. Slop fall off his horse.

Walter Shandy is surprised not only because of Dr. Slop's appearance but also because he too thinks the doctor arrived impossibly quickly. Toby, in the meantime, also finds Dr. Slop's quick arrival quite curious but for a different reason, which the narrator does not explain. Toby's reaction to Dr. Slop's arrival makes him think of the mathematician Simon Stevinus. This will all be explained in later chapters, the narrator states.