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The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman


by Laurence Sterne

Analysis: Tough-o-Meter

We've got your back. With the Tough-O-Meter, you'll know whether to bring extra layers or Swiss army knives as you summit the literary mountain. (10 = Toughest)

(10) Mt. Everest

Tristram Shandy actually turns the Tough-o-Meter to 11. Not only is it old, but it's rambling, digressive, and idiosyncratic to boot. Don't bother looking for a plot, because you won't find one. Instead, we get chapters about whiskers, chapters about digressions, chapters about noses (okay, lots of chapters about noses), chapters about French geography, chapters about buttonholes and, of course, chapters about chapters—plus a lot of dirty jokes.

Tristram (our narrator) constantly interrupts himself and lets other people, including the characters whose story he's telling, interrupt him. He leaves people stranded on a staircase and only comes back to them five chapters later; he introduces three different versions of himself; and he writes entire chapters in Latin. What's it all about, Alfie?

Let's just say we don't want to spoil the ending.

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