from Dr. Ed Vavra's ENL 121: Lit & Comp Course

Laurence Sterne's
Tristram Shandy


     Definitions of "novel" can become very complex, but essentially a novel is a very long story, long enough so that readers spend several hours with the characters, see them develop through time, and come to like or dislike them more than occurs with short stories. For this semester, I decided to have us read an unusual novel, perhaps even unique. Tristram Shandy does not have a conventional plot, something which Sterne himself comments on. (As you will see, the background of this page is Sterne's own description of his plot lines.) The novel is longer than the novels that we normally read, but I think and hope that you will enjoy it. You are not expected to read it in the same detail as we read short stories, and if you get behind, skip to catch up with us. As you will see, there will be quizzes, but the quizzes should be easy if you have read the assigned pages and have thought about the study questions.

Suggestions for Major Paper Topics

Assignment One: Sterne, Tristram Shandy, Vol. 1

Assignment Two: Sterne, Tristram Shandy, Vol. 2

Assignment Three: Sterne, Tristram Shandy, Vol. 3

Assignment Four: Sterne, Tristram Shandy, Vol. 4

Assignment Five: Sterne, Tristram Shandy, Vol. 5

Assignment Six: Sterne, Tristram Shandy, Vol. 6

Assignment Seven: Sterne, Tristram Shandy, Vol. 7

Assignment Eight: Sterne, Tristram Shandy, Vol. 8

Assignment Nine: Sterne, Tristram Shandy, Vol. 9

Assignment Ten: The Critics' Comments

Additional Suggestions for Major Paper Topics

1. Write an essay in which you first explain Sterne's concept of hobby-horses (using references to the novel to demonstrate) and then apply the concept to a person or people whom you know.

2. Write an essay which explains why many people might find this novel worth reading.

3. Write an essay which explores the attitude implied in the novel toward learning and knowledge.

4. According to Freud, sex is the primary human drive. Explore the role of sex in the novel, including both the allusions to it and the sexuality of the characters (especially Uncle Toby, the Widow Wadman, Tristram, and Tristram's father).

5. One of the most difficult things that a human can do is to understand the thoughts, personaltiy, etc. of other people. (We tend to believe that everyone is like us, and that thus we should all understand each other.) Literature gives us perspectives on the differences in people. Write an essay characterizing Tristram's father and Uncle Toby OR Tristram's father and mother. In the essay, also explore the relationship between the two characters. Then show how variations of those characteristics and relationships exist in people you know. (You may change the names and identities of the people you know.)