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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, August 22, 2011

Letter 39 and Tristram Shandy

Diane Reynolds responded to my recent posting of links to two earlier blog posts of mine regarding allusions by Jane Austen to Laurence Sterne's groundbreakingly experimental 18th century novel Tristram Shandy:

[Diane] "I remember now seeing that T Shandy (TS) posts and meaning to go back to it. Now I have. Yes, "Uncle Toby's annuity" is another good catch--I had wondered why JA referenced Uncle Toby's annuity rather than Trim in talking about the every faithful James. I had not remembered that Trim's name was James Butler --very interesting that JA refers to a butler named James. This leads me to believe that "James" may be a fictional character. I will have to look at the letter again. Of course, one can't help but think of Mr. Woodhouse's butler James. "

Nice catch there on the pun, Diane, which I did not even realize when I first responded to your message---"James Butler" and "James _the_ butler"!!!

Otherwise, I can only reply, in the words of Molly Bloom, "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!" Diane, your mind has wandered in pretty much all the same directions as mine, for, I suspect, all the same (good) reasons.

[Diane] "Not too long ago, my husband and I re-read TS aloud to each other during 5 or 6 long road trips, partially because it is a delightful book in parts and also because, as a source for Austen, it is one of the strongest arguments that JA learned techniques of subtext and wordplay (and there is absolutely no doubt she was fascinated by wordplay). Her odd allusion to it--and what a memory of it she has--is evidence she thought about the book, and had absorbed the book--and as well, honed in on its moral content. I'm thinking as well of a laughing reference she makes in a letter about how she should have thrown a few sermons or treatises (?) in a book--I want to say P&P--to "improve" it and I also think that is an allusion to TS. "

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, again!

And don't forget these other TS allusions by JA as well:

[Diane] "TS is one of the most bizarre books ever written--at least of the books I've read. Scholars accept its "birth" subtext--that Sterne placed clues to indicate that Mr. Shandy could not have been TS's father-- sciatica at the time of conception, etc, and that Yorick was his real father. None of this is "out there" --Sterne never once says "Oh Yorick is TS's father." You have to piece it together, and even then, it's not a surety--Sterne leaves us guessing, as he does with the injury to Uncle Toby's "nose." I don't see any reason why JA couldn't have done this too--in fact, I think she did. It would have been characteristic of her. "

Yes, yes, yes, yes....

[Diane] "TS is also an important book for Arnie's thesis about JA's concern over childbirth. Childbirth is treated comically by Sterne, but the pre-nuptial agreements between Mr. and Mrs. Shandy about childbirth and who controls it and it where it happens, are detailed and remarkable--also a great deal of comedy revolves around the fact that Mrs. Shandy is left to the devices of the incompetent Dr. Slop (despite her energetic attempts otherwise) Underlying all of this is the reality of the dangers of childbirth--and a good depiction of male detachment from its realities."

YES! There could not be an allusive source more apt for Northanger Abbey, in about a half dozen ways....


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