"Begot and born to misfortunes": aspects of conception, gestation, and birth in Tristram Shandy
This project explores the effect eighteenth century reproductive theory had on Laurence Sterneï¿½s use of satire in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759 - 1767). Particular focus will be on the impact of the paternal and maternal imagination on the developing fetus, sexual facts and misconceptions common to eighteenth-century readers, as well as the changes in the gender dynamic of the birthing process (the man-midwife debate). There has been a lack of critical attention specifically on Tristram Shandy and its textual debt to medical treatises, midwifery texts, and folkloric medical tracts. Beyond this, I believe that the visual images also published in these works to be of great value in understanding the socio-historic background to sex and reproduction in the eighteenth century. I propose that the reader should look beyond the child-like antics of Walter and instead focus on Elizabeth as patient and Tristram as ï¿½experimentï¿½ within the historical-medical context of their contemporary culture. By expanding the context of relevant cultural materials that would have been available to Sterne, it is possible to read certain portions of the novel as a timeline of pregnancy through conception, gestation, and ultimately birth. I wish to examine the physical development not only of Tristram the character but also Tristram the novel, as the parallels between its creation and birth are obvious to even the most casual reader. Images of the autonomous fetus were quite well disseminated at this time and could be used to understand Tristram as a pseudo-fetal narrator, an author trapped somewhere in between a self-reliant free embryo writing and a grown man imprisoned by the calamities that befell him in-utero.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
Copyright DateSeptember 2010