For my secondary literature blog post I read, Pope to Burney, 1714-1779, by Moyra Haslett. In her work Haslett argues that the “presiding motif for eighteenth-century literature [is] the idea of conversation…which links…different aspects of the eighteenth-century literature, it is not in any sense a single label. It generates a range of associated ideas, rather than necessarily imposing a determinist narrative upon the period” (Haslett 1). Her premise is that a defining feature of the eighteenth century novel is the conversational aspect that the books take with the reader. This idea can be seen throughout the novels we have read in the course, from Robinson Crusoe to Evelina to The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. And it is upon the last that I will focus on here. Do you see the motif of “conversation” as one present in many of the novels we have read in class?
Haslett argues a number of eighteenth-century “literary texts articulate or imply a self-consciousness about their own status as texts. Often this takes the from of direct addresses to the reader” (78-79). This is certainly true of Shandy in many places throughout the novel. For example, Shandy continual calls the reader “my dear friend and companion” and tells us “as you proceed further with me, the slight acquaintance which is now beginning betwixt us, will grow into familiarity; and that, unless one of us is in fault, will terminate in friendship” (Sterne, 11). Seen here is the conversational tone that Haslett argues, it is the creation of an intimate relationship with the reader. “The relationship between writer and reader is explicitly modelled on one of friendship and sociability. This friendship, and the reader’s increasing intimacy with Tristram himself, offers a way of overcoming the solipsism so obvious in all of the novel’s characters” (79). Solipsim, for those who are unfamiliar, is the idea of the self as the only reality. So what Haslett suggests is that this intimacy allows for one to read this, and other novels, in a way that makes them much more so real to us the reader. Do you agree with this idea, does this intimacy offered by Tristram overcome the solipsism of the novel’s characters?
Another aspect of Shandy that Heslett sheds let upon is how “it draws its readers into happy complicity with its own playfulness and moral seriousness. Readers are asked to meet the narrator halfway, by bringing their own understanding and imaginations into play” (80). This very idea can be seen on page 423 of Tristram Shandy when he offers the reader a blank page to write in their own description of Mrs. Wadman. He asks the reader to “paint her to your own mind” (422). This again invokes the conversation motif offered, but she goes further here on Shandy to argue that “in giving the readers so much freedom to form their own opinions and judgments, Sterne wrote a book which would be radically individualistic” (80). Is this true, or are we pigeonholed into reading it in a much particularized way by Sterne, despite the perceived individualizations? Heslett ends by stating that eighteenth century texts “constantly interrogate the nature of the relationship between author and reader” (81). Certainly this may be seen in Tristram Shandy in the way he speaks directly to the reader, as well as in Evelina and Pamela by their intimate epistolary form, but to what extent do you see it as a defining aspect of eighteenth century literature?
Haslett, Moyra. Pope to Burney: 1714 - 1779 : Scriblerians to Bluestockings. Basingstoke.
Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Print.
Sterne, Laurence, and Graham Petrie. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1967. Print.