Tristram Shandy Book 3, Chapters 12-18 Summary

Laurence Sterne

Book 3, Chapters 12-18 Summary

Susannah, one of Mrs. Shandy's nurses, comes down from upstairs and announces that Mrs. Shandy is close to fainting from her challenges with her labor. Mysteriously, all her pains have ceased, and she has consumed all the medicine. In addition, while attending to Mrs. Shandy, the nurse cut her arm.

Despite all of this activity, the baby has not changed position, as if it were not ready to be born. Also, the midwife fell and badly bruised her hip. When Dr. Slop responds, his first point of interest is the midwife. He insists on looking at her damaged hip. However, Susannah begs him first to look at Mrs. Shandy and then to talk to the midwife so that the midwife might give the doctor her report of what has happened so far with Mrs. Shandy.

Dr. Slop, who continues to contend that he is in charge despite the fact that both Mr. and Mrs. Shandy have declared that they want the midwife to spearhead the delivery, insists that he cannot go to the midwife. That would not be proper because he is the attending doctor and she is merely the midwife. Instead the midwife must come to him as his subordinate.

As this discussion is occurring, Dr. Slop is finally able to open his bag of instruments. He reaches into the untied bag and brings out the forceps. Uncle Toby is surprised by the looks of the forceps and cannot believe that the doctor intends to use them in delivering the baby. In an attempt to ease Uncle Toby's mind, the doctor has Toby clench his fists to model the baby's skull. Then Dr. Slop clamps the forceps on Uncle Toby's fists and pulls on them.

At this, Uncle Toby screeches, telling the doctor that the forceps have scraped all the skin off the back of his hands and crushed his knuckles. Dr. Slop cannot believe this and tells Toby that he should have held his hands still. It was either the fault of Toby not sitting still or possibly because of the cut on the doctor's thumb, which he received when he had to resort to using a penknife to loosen the knots on the bag. The cut on his thumb has made the doctor a little more clumsy than usual.

Mr. Shandy points out that either way, it is good that the doctor first practiced on Toby rather than on the baby's head. Toby agrees, stating that if his knuckles had been the baby's head, the doctor would have broken the "cerebellum." The doctor disagrees, telling them that a baby's skull is pliable, soft as an apple, and would have slackened upon the pressure, thus avoiding any cracking of the skull.

The doctor is then escorted upstairs to attend to Mrs. Shandy.