Sterne's writing and conversational style. A co-operative work between the author and the reader

Term Paper, 2005
22 Pages, Grade: 2,3



1. Introduction

2. The role of conversation and writing in the 18th century

3. Sterne`s graphic design and print form as means of increasing the reader`s imagination
3. 1. The role of asterisks for the reader`s co-work
3. 2. The function of dashes in the text
3. 3. Sterne`s typography and the written word

4. Identification and selfpresentation of Tristram Shandy and his relationship with the reader
4. 1. The problem of identification
4. 2. Tristram`s selfpresentation and friendship with the reader 12
4. 3. Tristram`s didactic technique and his book

5. Summary

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In the spring and summer 2005, Mr. Dr. Jens Martin Gurr conducted the seminar dealing with the reflections on science and progress in the novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman written by Laurence Sterne, at the University of Essen. This was how my concern with the investigation of Sterne`s writing and conversational style and its influence on the reader of the novel came into being. The general aim of my homework was to find out different means and methods Sterne used to influence the readers imagination and to involve the reader into an equal conversation with him. I tried to gather different informations about this novel and the theme I have chosen.This was done in two ways:

1. By reading the text and underlining those parts of the text which suit my theme best.
2. By collecting books and journal publications on my subject, using the MLA Online Bibliography available on the website of the university library.

All informations from another sources are indicated with quatations. I have indicated the material from the internet used in the last chapter of my homework too.

After the introductory part that sets the stage and provides a conceptual framework, my homework is organized into three major sections. The first section of my homework deals with the general information about the role of the writing and conversational process in the 18th century. My interest in what tendencies in the 18th century help to create such texts like Sterne`s Tristram Shandy led to certain decisions about the information I present in my homework. The first section is small, and it occupies only one page of my homework.

The second section addresses the question of what role different graphic means and print forms play in the relationship between Tristram and the reader. We can trace, how Sterne tries to engage the reader into an equal conversation with the help of some graphic means and print tricks, how he influences the readers imagination and makes the reader an active participant in the novel. I tried to mention the most interesting moments in the text, which I found in the text during the process of reading of Tristram Shandy. The number of these moments is, of course, far from complete.

The last section looks at the relationship of Tristram Shandy with his readers. We can trace, how Tristram conducts his conversation and tries to win the reader´s attention and sympathy. We can see, how he attracts the reader with his conversational style and involves the reader into a co-operative work with him.

I also present the table of content at the very beginning of my homework, which might aid a reader in locating a section, and finally a selective bibliography.

2. The role of conversation and writing in the 18th century

In the eighteenth century, a tradition which had been dominated by oral interaction between people was replaced by a tradition based on the written text. We can trace this changes both in France and in England. The new art of representation of language in the eighteenth century occurred during the time of Sterne. At the same time, from the end of the seventeenth century, the role of conversation became different meaning and intention: “…the verb `converser` retained its latin sense of ` to frequent ` or ` live with `, and the noun `conversation `conveyed a sense of place that is no longer has today. Conversation created its own social space with carefully marked boundaries; to ` be somebody ` one had to be ` in the best conversation `. …In the classical written portrait, the best compliment one could pay one`s subjects was to praise their conversation; no skill was more important for enhancing one`s social status” (Goldsmith, 1988, P. 2).

The role of the speaker and of the listener or the reader was changed too. The speaker should be a person who conversed with friends or created a friendly atmosphere during the process of conversation like in the family circle. He must please the reader`s imagination, his language must arouse mental images in the mind of the listener or the reader, “while ideal speakers must appear to be expressing a loose, unpremeditated chain of thoughts, what in fact makes perfect conversation possible is their willingness to submit to the rule of the group” (Goldsmith, 1988, P. 46). Or we can say a little bit different to this point of view, after the reading of Sterne`s Tristram Shandy, that not only the speaker but also the reader should have a willingness to submit to the rule of the speaker and to support his conversation. It was one requirement to find oneself in a good company. Tristram stated to this point too. He said that a conversation built a good company: “Writing, when properly managed, (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation: As no one, who knows what he is about in good company, would venture to talk all…” (Sterne, 1760, P. 83).

The process of conversation in the eighteenth century became a new conception, where conversation was a relationship between writing, speech and images. Sterne`s writing deals with the unusual form of the text and strategies of language he represents us, his speech associates with the narration process in the text which guides the reader through the intricate and complicated world of Tristram Shandy, and images influence the mind of the reader making him or her an active participant in Tristram`s conversational exchange. To examine it in detail, I go on to the next chapter of my homework.

3. Sterne`s graphic design and print form as means of increasing the reader`s imagination

The move from the oral to the written form of representation in literature in the eighteenth century was very popular. The word and other visual components of language, like the new print forms and graphic design, were widely used to increase reader`s imagination and perception of a text. This visual components did not exist alongside a writing tradition in the eighteenth century, but came to be integrated by the speaker to make the conversation more interesting and attractive for the reader. “The truest respect which you can pay to the reader`s understanding is… leave him something to imagine…” (Sterne, 1760, P. 83). The pleasures of the imagination were those that arose from visible objects. They ccould be seen directly or called up into the mind of the reader. The reader`s interpretation became an important role in the process of reading of a text in the eighteenth century.

One of such graphic and print experimentations with the form is, of course, Laurence Sterne`s Tristram Shandy. The author uses both print forms and graphic tricks to influence the reader`s imagination, to guide their interpretation and to entice the reader. The reader is forced to read the visual components, which are established to make a comic effect, as part of the text. The reader should not have a tedious time.

There is no novel in the eighteenth century without a title page. By Sterne, it contains the three basic elements of a title page: the title at the head, the epigraph mid-page, and the book`s birth date.The absence of Sterne`s name on the title page gives the book the mask of anonymity and it is very deceitful for the reader.Title pages of the eighteenth century novels have nearly always the name of the hero or heroine. They summarize or explain to the reader what information a book contains. In our case, the book deals with the life and opinions of Tristram Shandy. Aided by a type size,where the word life and opinions are clearly distinguished among other words, it presents itself the biographical information about the hero and, of course, his meditation about his life: “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman” (Sterne, 1760, P. 1). The emphatic use of typography and the use of small letters for the word gentleman, guides the reader`s perception of the book`s main character. Tristram Shandy`s title of gentleman means: “A socially respectable person who had no specific occupation or profession” (Murray, 1933, P. 119).

From the very beginning, on the title page, we can see an epigraph from the Stoic Epictetus`s Encheiridion: “ It is not things themselves that disturb men, but their judgments about these things” (Sterne, 1760, P. 1). It is only in the eighteenth century that the usage of epigraphs on title pages become popular, especially Latin and Greek mottoes. Sterne fronts his title page with a phrase that is borrowed from the Greek language. We understand that only an educated reader knows Greek, so, this book is not for everyone. The presence of the Greek words on the title page attributes specific expectations to the novel even for the educated reader and announces specific scholarly qualifications of the novel. For many readers the epigraph, if not translated, reveals as a hidden joke or irony. Sterne`s epigraph on the title page belongs to many experiments and tricks, which we can find in the novel. Experiments with the novel`s design and creative use of type make a big impact upon the reader and reader`s imagination.

Another experiments in graphic design are Sterne`s marble page and black pages. They call attention to themself, because they are visually inconsistent with the rest of the novel. Sterene breaks the readers expectation. The reader can find the marble page that signifies the brightness of life and serves to be an emblem of this work, and the endpapers of the book inserted into the middle of the text. It looks like a print mistake or a book produktion mistake. When one character dies, Sterne has a black page to describe it. The black page creates the image of death in the reader`s mind. It means: nothing is left but the black emptiness. According to William Holtz, the role of the black page is to “…commemorate Yorick´s death. …the page serves as a grotesque punctuation makr, a monstrous period marking a biological as well as a syntactical full stop. …also effective in halting the page-flipping reader for a moment`s contemplation of (1) Yorick`s grave and inscription, Alas, poor YORICK! , and (2) the general problem of getting such things on paper” (Holtz, 1972, P. 250).

Sometimes Tristram is tired of doing everything by himself, he needs a pause. He is going to describe the widow Wadman on page 330, but then he gives it up. He leaves a page blank for the reader. The reader can describe the widow Wadman himself and can draw her: “To conceive this right,----call for pen and ink----here`s paper ready to your hand.----Sit down, Sir, paint her to your own mind----as like your mistress as you can----as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you----`tis all one to me----please but your own fancy in it” (Anderson, 1980, P. 330). It sounds like an invitation to co-operate with Tristram in his work. The reader has to accept this invitation.


Excerpt out of 22 pages


Sterne's writing and conversational style. A co-operative work between the author and the reader
University of Duisburg-Essen
Reflections on Science and Progress in the Novel: Sterne`s Tristram Shandy and Mark Twain`s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur`s Court
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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This homework addresses the question of what role different graphic means and print forms play in the relationship between Tristram Shandy and the reader.
Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne, 18th century Literature, role of conversation, asterisks, role of dashes, selfpresentation, graphic design, didactic techniqe
Quote paper
Volodymyr Kalinkin (Author), 2005, Sterne's writing and conversational style. A co-operative work between the author and the reader, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • Dr. Maia Inauri on 1/5/2015

    Great work!!! Thank you!!! Best regards from London.

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