Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Failure of the Week: Tristram Shandy

A Pseudo-Intellectual Book Report: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Lawrence Sterne

People read this book and enjoy it. It only reinforces my pseudo-intellectual cred that I am not enjoying it. My French is too rusty, my Latin nonexistent, I didn't read Don Quixote, nor did I study philosophy in college.  I can sort of follow the gist, but that is not enough to make it fun. I guess I know most of the words in the sentences, at least the current definitions, but, man, I do not know what this guy means when he strings them together in his most English, most Sir Harumphs-a-lot manner. 

Random sentence to prove my point: 

If the fixure of Momus's glass in the human breast, according to the proposed emendation of that arch-critick, had taken place, -first, This foolish consequence would certainly have followed, -That the very wisest and very gravest of us all, in one coin or other, must have paid window-money every day of our lives.

Hilarious, right?

The worst part is that I know he is making jokes and I don't get them. There's nothing I hate worse than not getting jokes. It makes me feel so deaf and out-of-the-loop.

It's a bit of irony that this piece of literary history from the 1760s gives me a little taste of what my creaking, elderly, senile future will be like, when all the youngsters make jokes about their iFaces while I sit by, letting the nonsense syllables flow over me and fall gently asleep.

2 comments:

cpt a said...

I bet he got beat up a lot in school.

hedera said...

That book is considered, well, peculiar, even in the English lit world. I've read it myself (my major was 18th century English lit), and I just shook my head.

It may help with the quote you included to know that, around the end of the 18th century (when Sterne wrote), the English government's revenue raising measures included a tax on the number of windows in your house. That's what he means by "window-money." I've read at least one Regency romance in which a poor aristocrat boarded up all his 4th floor windows to reduce his wondow tax.