Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Why I Love Lawrence Sterne Scholarship

Everyone loves Lawrence Sterne, but Lawrence Sterne scholarship is a largely unknown pleasure. It certainly sounds forbidding, critical analyses -- and worse, textual apparatus-wrangling -- being few novel-lovers' idea of fun.

But the faint-hearted should think again. If you like Sterne, a passage like this:

"After studying the surviving manuscripts of A Sentimental Journay and A Journal to Eliza, the editors decided that normalizing Sterne's erratic spellings, grammar and punctuation would, in too many instances, possibly confuse his intentions. Did he, for example, alter 'Rugians' (the name of a Germanic tribe correctly spelled in his source) to 'Bugians' to create a bawdy play (see n. i to VI.xvii), or did the compositor, unfamiliar with 'Rugians,' make a simple error? Is Sterne showing his poor command of French when he write 'a le pere,' as many correcting editors seem to believe; or is he making a deliberate error, designed to echo 'à la mere' (see nn. 4 and 5 to I.xx)?"

offers an inquiry wholly in the spirit of the man. Wayne Booth wrote an essay asking whether Tristram Shandy is in fact complete; how can lovers of that novel not find the question interesting? (Remember, the final page merely says "Here Endeth the Ninth Volume," in similar manner to its predecessors.) Booth adduces passages in the first four volumes to argue that Sterne had always intended the work to end with the history of Uncle Toby's amours.

Tristram Shandy is always so nearly on the edge of turning into a critical apparatus of itself that it would take a particularly incompetent or priggish commentary (I am sure some exists) to traduce it. I am rereading the novel for the first time since college, and using the new Penguin edition, which retains the original Christopher Ricks introduction but adds a new one and employs the definitive "Florida" edition and has no notes. How Shandian it is to have two introductions!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Finished One Book; Resuming Another

A week or two ago I finished Kentauros, a 33,000 word novella (or very short novel) that I have been working on for nearly a year. Today I returned to the novel I had interrupted to embark on this this joie d'esprit.

Did I spend very nearly a year (with a few weeks off for the occasional book review) to produce only 33,000 words? Well, yes: the novella required intensive research, with prety much a whole new set of it for each successive section. My two or three years' work on my long novel -- itself interrupted by illness -- was put into dry dock for this. Looking it over today, I find (to my relief) that it hasn't suffered from dry rot during its period of neglect, but that I am now farther from all the intensive research that it had required. Will I be able to reconstruct all the little sub-plots and intrigues I was slowly developing? Maybe they are detailed in my notes.

I had better stick with this (very long) project from here on out.