Friday, October 7, 2011

For Credit: Starting Tristram Shandy

In class on Thursday, I mentioned the course reading guide to Tristram Shandy, which can be found here, and over there in the sidebar, under "Required Readings."

There has been a movie version of Tristram Shandy.  It's pretty good, as these things go, but it is no substitute for reading the book itself.

We did not get through the entire passage from Tristram Shandy that I brought in for discussion, so feel free to follow-up here by trying to make sense of what it happening in that episode.  It's the very last chapter of the book, the final chapter of Volume 9.  It begins with Tristram's father, Sir Walter Shandy, railing against the emotion of lust--arguing that it is NOT, in fact, a good thing--but his discourse gets interrupted.

What interrupts him?

What does the ensuing discussion involve, reveal, concern?

What sense do you make of this entire episode?

Offer your thoughts (or feel free to take issue with a classmate's thoughts).

Deadline: Tuesday (10/11), start of class.  Posts count towards Week 7 or Week 8, depending on which side of Saturday midnight they appear.


  1. I have read this passage three or four times now, and I'm still really confused. If I'm reading correctly, Sir Walter gets interrupted by Obadiah, who comes into the room complaining about the potency of Sir Walter's bull. I think Obadiah's cow mated with Walter's bull, but has yet to have the calf. However, on the same day the bull and cow got together, Obadiah married Sir Walter's housemaid; she too was pregnant and when she had the child, it was really hairy. Thus, people have been questioning whether or not Obadiah or the bull is the father of the child...? that seems really unlikely, but, after reading the footnotes I am having a hard time arriving at any other conclusion. The most confusing part is when Dr. Slop enters the scenario and starts referring to Obadiah's wife all of a sudden. Since the baby was hairy, it must have been fathered by the bull, thus clearing the bull of the charge of impotency, and instead, charging Obadiah as impotent? Or is he just the cuckhold who has had his woman taken away by an animal? I'm not really sure what to make of this passage - is it supposed to allude to literal bestiality (I would assume not), or is it meant to be an example of the cautionary speech Sir Walter was in the middle of giving ("a passion... which couples and equals wise men with fool, and makes us come out of our caverns and hiding-places more like satyrs and four footed beasts than men" 541). In this case, the fool would be Obadiah, and the baby who has left the cavern of the housemaid's womb is the satyr like being. I'm still not sure what kind of commentary that is on society, other than saying that passion drives people to make rash decisions regarding sex, and sex, when not taken seriously, can have severe and unexpected consequences (after all, who expects a hairy bull-baby?).

  2. WOW. Taylor took the bull by the horns there (so to speak) and came up with a thoughtful and informed reading of the passage. What do the rest of you think? Did she nail it, or is there room to see other connections being drawn between Obadiah and the birth of his son and the plight of Sir Walter Shandy's bull?

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  4. I agree with Taylor. I believe that Sir Walter proves his bull’s potency/virility by claiming that his bull fathered Obadiah’s child. When Obadiah walks in, he accuses the bull of being impotent. Sir Walter, defending his bull against this affront, turns to Dr. Slop and asks if the cow may be barren. Dr. Slop states that a cow being barren is improbable. From my reading of this (which is when the confusion begins), I believe that Dr. Slop continues by suggesting a possibility that proves Sir Walter’s bull’s virility by suggesting that Obadiah’s wife may have had the child prematurely and that since the child is hairy, the child may be the bull’s! Sir Walter defends this and describes how his bull could have been like Zeus in the form of a bull who had kidnapped Europa and had ravished her. If so, then Obadiah has become a cuck(COCK)hold since his wife had been unfaithful to him with a BULL. Also, this story is a COCK and a BULL since it is completely absurd. I kind of read this as a way to close the story where it began. Shandy began by describing his conception (which I found to be really weird) and how he had wished his parents had taken this moment more seriouslyt. It’s interesting that he should begin the novel with his conception and end the novel talking about another conception, albeit, a cock and bull one.

  5. Perhaps because I was not present in class that I am unsure what this passage is and how to respond to it, but I can possibly respond about he book in general. The interest that Shandy takes in the episodes of his birth are kind of weird. He feels the need to talk about his actual conception between his mother and father and then his actual journey as a "sperm" before even reaching the egg. All of this seems a bit much and pretty unnecessary. Throughout his explanations of things and moments where he speaks his opinion, he talks with an air of cockiness perhaps. I am not sure what to call his tone, but he seems to be I suppose well educated and knows what the heck is talking about. The novel seems like it could be a funny one, but that could perhaps be because of the trailer.