Emily Friedman deposited “Let people tell their stories their own way”: Tristram Shandy as Novel, Provocation, Remix in the group TM Book History, Print Cultures, Lexicography on MLA Commons 1 year, 8 months ago
In the fall of 2019 I taught my eighteenth-century novel course as an exercise in slow reading, taking a tactic I had used before: putting a canonical work of fiction into the context of the other voices in the literary marketplace, and the circumstances of its making. For such a course, Tristram Shandy is an ideal central text. It was published over nearly a decade, among other significant literary innovations (Millennium Hall, The Castle of Otranto, The Female American) and important world-shaping events. Like all my courses, this class was taught in an active learning classroom connected to our library, with a foot in both the world of the digital and our special collections holdings. Thus, my goal was to provide meaningful experiences in both realms.
I (roughly) treated each week in the semester as a “year in the life” of Sterne and Shandy. We read the novel as it was first encountered by its readers: generally, two volumes in a year, with intermittent years where no volume appeared at all. In those moments of publication “silence” we read other items available to readers, including the wealth of responses, parodies, and continuations of Shandy. Because this class is officially an introduction to the “eighteenth century novel,” we also read examples of other threads (to use Spacks’ term) of the novel tradition: the philosophical tale Rasselas (1759), the protofeminist utopia Millennium Hall (1762), the Gothic The Castle of Otranto (1764), and the Robinsonade The Female American (1767). In the lead up to the final volume, we also read Ignatius Sancho’s correspondence with Sterne encouraging him to have explicit abolitionist messaging in that volume, and did leap ahead to include Cugoano’s Thought and Sentiments (1787) so as to provide a fuller grounding of what the movement would become shortly thereafter.