To Be Brief … No Such Thing in Some Books

Laurence Sterne was born on November 24, 1713. This is a repost of a column from September.

The Gad About Town

Most copies of “Tristram Shandy” by Laurence Sterne are about 600 pages long. The book is a fictional autobiography in which Tristram, the not-quite hero of a story that is not quite his own, attempts to tell us about his life from birth onward. However, he does not even begin to begin telling us about his birth and his first day on earth until the fourth volume because, like his own conception on page 1, his story is much interrupted.

(On page one, at the very moment Tristram is to be conceived, his mother asks his father if he remembered to wind the clock, an ill-timed interruption that, according to Tristram, produced an author who is incapable of telling a story straight to its end without breaks, questions, and digressions.)

The full title of Sterne’s masterpiece is “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,” and it was…

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