Tristram Shandy, the narrator and ostensible hero of this literary farrago devoted to some details of his early life, his father’s opinions and eccentricities, his uncle’s passion for the reenactment of Marlborough’s military campaigns, and assorted oddities of mind and conduct. His mother having incurred some time before the expense of a needless trip to London for a lying-in, Tristram, according to the terms of his parents’ marriage contract, is born at Shandy Hall on November 5, 1718. Various misfortunes befall him early in life: a broken nose, crushed by the doctor’s forceps at birth; the wrong name, Tristram instead of Trismegistus, when he is christened by a stupid young curate; and the loss of his member, a heavy sash having fallen while he was relieving himself through an open window. Although he is crushed by these irreparable incidents of damage, his father still insists that the boy have a proper education, and to this end Mr. Shandy writes a “Tristra-paedia” in imitation of the “Cyro-paedia” designed for the training of Cyrus the Great, as set forth in the pages of Xenophon. Except for a few scattered hints, the reader learns almost nothing about Tristram’s later life. Sterne devotes most of the novel to reporting humorous incidents and the sayings of the other characters.
Walter Shandy, Tristram’s father, a crotchety retired turkey merchant who possesses an immense stock of obscure information acquired by reading old books collected by his ancestors. As the result of his reading, he takes delight in lengthy discussions on unimportant topics. A man of acute sensibilities, alert to the minor pricks and vexations of life, he has developed a droll but sharp manner of peevishness, but he is so open and generous in all other ways that his friends are seldom offended by his sharpness of tongue. He suffers from sciatica as well as loquacity.
Mrs. Shandy, a good-natured but rather stupid woman. Typical is her interruption of the moment of Tristram’s conception on the first Sunday of March, 1718, to ask her husband if he has remembered to wind the clock. “I dare say” and “I suppose not” in response to Mr. Shandy are her most brilliant remarks in conversation.
Toby Shandy, called My Uncle Toby, a retired army captain who had been wounded in the groin during the siege of Namur in 1698. Now retired to the country, he spends most of his time amid a large and complicated series of miniature fortifications and military emplacements on the bowling green...
(The entire section is 1080 words.)