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!


Anonymous Brenda said...

Did you see the recent movie TRISTRAM SHANDY? It didn't release down here but I am reliably informed that it was true to the spirit of the book.

Brenda [look, I found you! We shall survive the wreckage of dm yet!]

6:17 AM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

Hey there, Brenda. The refugees from DM are already washing up ashore.

I have not yet seen TRISTRAM SHANDY, which showed at our local art-house theatre for a bare week (I was counting on longer). Will catch it when I can.

Have you read Sterne?

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Brenda said...

Alas, I have not. TRISTRAM waits comfotably in my future however. There is no rush, a philosophy with which I am sure Sterne would agree. There are authors and books (and movies, for that matter) that I am quietly saving for future need, like if I should ever be bedridden for six weeks. Every now and then when a book positively insists on being read I read it, the way I zoomed through BLEAK HOUSE earlier this year.


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Blogger Responsible Artist said...

I liked TS as much as any experimental novels. It is, however, a bit dated.

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