Tristram Shandy Book 4, Chapters 1-10 Summary

Laurence Sterne

Book 4, Chapters 1-10 Summary

The subject matter of this group of chapters is somewhat disjointed as Tristram jumps from the topic of noses to that of writing a book. The reason for the focus on noses is because Tristram (the baby recently delivered at this juncture in the story) had his nose broken by the forceps the doctor used to help extract him from his mother's womb. Having a broken nose will mark Tristram for life, his father fears, bringing Tristram bad luck.

First, when Tristram (as the narrator) reflects on Slawkenbergius's story about the stranger with the enormous nose, he chastises Slawkenbergius for being so "whimsical" in describing Julia's love and criticizes the writer for using language that will be very difficult to translate.

The narrator then puts his attention on his father, Mr. Shandy, who is on the bed with his own nose pressed against the blankets. Mr. Shandy is so still, it is as if he were dead. He has been overcome with his grief over his son's broken nose.

As he grieves, he asks his brother Toby if there is any other man who has ever received "so many lashes." Readers can assume that Mr. Shandy is feeling sorry for himself, believing that his sorrow is greater than that of any other man's.

Toby takes his brother's word literally and consults Trim about an incident that occurred while they were in the army. The situation had something to do with two young men who were punished and given a whipping. The details of this incident are not forthcoming, but a discussion between Toby and Trim ensues about the act of men crying. There is a discussion about whether men should cry and under what circumstances this is appropriate. Trim concludes that whenever he thinks about the young soldiers being whipped, it makes him cry.

After Trim leaves the room, Toby tells his brother that upon his death, he plans to leave a "pension" for Trim. This upsets Mr. Shandy, who begins to talk about inheritance. Toby insists that he was given no inheritance but Mr. Shandy disagrees, reminding him that their uncle left Toby "a hundred and twenty pounds a year." To this Toby answers, "What could I have done without it?" However, Toby does not admit that he has just contradicted himself.

Mr. Shandy then returns to the misfortune of his newborn child with the broken nose. To counter this twist of fate, Mr. Shandy declares that his son will be christened "Trismegistus." 

The narrator then discusses the future chapters that he plans to write: one on the subject of knots, two on the "right and the wrong ends of a woman," one on whiskers, one on noses, another on Toby's modesty, and a chapter about chapters.

The last chapter in this section is written in French.