A Central Consciousness at Work Beneath the Surface Artlessness: Narrative Strategies in “Tristram Shandy”

Junfang Xu


‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman’ (hereafter shortened to “Tristram Shandy”) is a unique novel written by British author Laurence Sterne in the eighteenth century. While Sterne’s contemporary readers may have conflicting viewpoints about the artistic value of “Tristram Shandy” because of its surface artlessness and chaos, readers today in the contexts of such twentieth-century critical theories as postmodernism, existentialism, and deconstruction, find it congenial and more intriguing. I argue that despite the apparent chaos of this novel, the author-narrator Tristram is a central consciousness that holds the whole work together. And I believe Sterne narrates his story in such a peculiar way in conformity to his own perception of the outside world. Specifically, this paper aims to explore the inventive narrative strategies employed in Sterne’s “Tristram Shandy” in the three aspects of narrative structure, time-shifting technique and self-conscious narrator. Amazingly, “Tristram Shandy” presents a wholly new notion of creative writing, one that goes beyond its time, and has unbreakable connection with twentieth-century literature.


inventiveness, narrative structure, time-shifting, self-conscious, surface artlessness, associationism

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.7n.3p.137


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