Shandy Hall. Tristram’s chief misfortune is to be born in Shandy Hall, a world ruled by his father, Walter Shandy, who is determined to give Tristram, his only child, the best possible chances of success in life, only to be defeated at every turn. A botched conception, birth, and christening are the genesis of Tristram’s lifelong misfortunes, but they also mirror and mock the activities of those who attempt to control destiny with arcane lore, esoteric learning, and harebrained schemes.
Walter Shandy’s hodgepodge of philosophical and psychological ideas, formal logic, and theories of child-rearing form a comic opera in which his best plans are overturned, throwing Shandy Hall into constant turmoil. Within this microcosm, classical rhetoric, medieval literature, and biblical references mingle with allusions to astrology, alchemy, bridge-building, and fortifications. Citations in Latin, Greek, French, and Italian mingle with a technical vocabulary borrowed from science, medicine, and the legal profession. A dissertation on whiskers mingles with a long tale about a man’s nose. All of these disparate elements create a rich muddle that symbolizes not only Walter Shandy’s fecund mind but also the larger world of human affairs, which is marked by endless misunderstanding and ubiquitous charlatanism.
The events that take place within Shandy Hall represent, by implication, Tristram’s version of human history, a tragicomedy...
(The entire section is 605 words.)