Tristram Shandy

As someone known first and foremost for having a kooky name, and that nearly 250 years ago, Tristram Shandy should hold a special place in funny nameology. His is a fictional name, in a fictional autobiography: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

We’re using “autobiography” loosely here. One of the running jokes of Tristram Shandy is that Tristram can’t get his story off the ground. He doesn’t even get to his own birth until volume three. Tristram’s long and winding narrative contains plenty of his opinion, but hardly anything about his life.

The long and winding narrative (click to enlarge)

The long and winding narrative (click to enlarge)

This famously idiosyncratic creation was authored by Laurence Sterne. Defying literary convention on so many levels, it was an experimental novel long before experimental novels were cool, anticipating modernist masters like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce.

Another major joke of the novel is that Tristram’s father Walter Shandy loathed the name Tristram above all names. Through a series of mishaps, his chosen name, Trismegistus, gets mispronounced by the chambermaid and Tristram ends up being christened with the most objectionable name imaginable (for Walter, anyway).

Walter subscribes to the theory that an inauspicious name dooms one for life.

Needless to say, Walter has thoroughly warped poor Tristram’s mind. Among Walter’s many other quack theories is the idea that a long nose is essential to success; Tristram’s nose gets crushed at birth by the forceps of Dr. Slop. a male midwife (who calls himself a “scientifick operator”). Thus, Tristram is doubly danged.

Actually triply danged (or so he thinks): he is accidentally circumcised as a child by a falling window sash while peeing out of a window, due to the negligence of the same chambermaid who mangled his name.

In fact, make that quadrupally danged. During Tristram’s conception Elizabeth Shandy asks Walter if he remembered to wind the clock. Tristram believes he didn’t implant correctly in his mom’s womb as a result and that his “humors” are out of whack.

 Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim get working on one of their battle reenactments.

Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim get working on one of their battle reenactments.

Tristram Shandy has a great menagerie of eccentric characters, many as funnily named as Tristram himself. There is his uncle Captain Toby Shandy and Toby’s manservant Corporal Trim. Uncle Toby has a mania for military history, and he and the Corporal get into madcap adventures doing battle reenactments.

Other memorable characters are Widow Wadman, who tries to rope Uncle Toby into marriage, Lieutenant Le Fever, an unfortunate whom Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim take under their wings, and Billy Le Fever, the Lieutenant’s orphaned son who becomes Uncle Toby’s charge.

There is also Parson Yorick, a close family friend of the Shandys, Eugenius, the parson’s buddy, and a gaggle of bookish guys, Didius, Kysarcius, Phutatorius, Triptolemus, and Gastripheres, who advise Walter, Toby and Pastor Yorick about getting Tristram’s name changed.

Happily, we can assume nothing came of those consultations; the name Tristram Shandy endures. And long may it endure more!

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24 Responses to Tristram Shandy

  1. ksbeth says:

    this sounds like a wonderful romp and perhaps i will drink a summer shandy (named after his distant cousin), while reading it.

    • wdydfae says:

      Thanks, ksbeth! I dunno, TS is quite a long slog (nine volumes). I read about it more than I actually read it, though I’ve read snippets. They took a while to get to the punchlines in those days.

  2. Liz says:

    are you making this up? Just because you can’t find any funny names? Shame on you.

    Curious how you happened upon this book. Love art that is ahead of its time. Leave it to you to unearth another gem.

    (feel free to use the “unearth another gem” phrase in a future blurb)–haha wink wink just kidding y’know

    • Dave says:

      I’m pretty sure the blurb machine has an input channel that accepts suggestions, so perhaps you needn’t be kidding.

      *Does anyone else here love awkward contractions like needn’t and oughtn’t as much as I do? Oughtn’t is also a favorite word because it contains five consecutive consonants. Haha, a knack for trivia like this is going to make me a doctor with an encylopedic knowledge of pathologies, or a malpractice suit waiting to happen. Only time will tell!

      • Liz says:

        Doesn’t the trivia knack make you $$ at the bar?

        • Dave says:

          Haha, maybe $ but not $$. We usually win $25 bar cash, which is first prize. Back when it was Arto and I, that $25 helped a lot. Now that our team has grown to 6-8 people, it’s pretty minimal. But still better than nothing 🙂

      • wdydfae says:

        There’s a great jazz song called “Well, You Needn’t.”

        There’s a funny name post in there for a rainy day, too.

    • wdydfae says:

      . . . Liz has unearthed not just a gem but a whole dragon hoard with this pithy and perceptive comment . . .

      . . . Liz raises the commenting bar to a whole new level as she heaps praise on Whud Yuhd Fee’s fabulously freaky new post . . .

      . . . Liz’s astute commentary shows just why Why Did ‘ee Fay’s posts continue to attract hundreds of visitors per minute and knock that views per hour bar straight through the roof . . .

  3. Dave says:

    Wow! This is a truly delightful story! And the BoFN loves us a good Tristram! We’ve covered Tristram E Speaker, and Tristram Shapeero (actually in consecutive days, if I’m not mistaken)! Great post, Diddy!

  4. Pingback: BoFN Update: Batting 500 with Tristram Shandy | What Do You Do for an Encore?

  5. Now there’s a book to read when you living at the south pole in winter. 🙂 Love the names and the premise. Great job, Wdydfae.

    BTW, love that you’ve been able to oil up the blurb generator.

    • wdydfae says:

      Thanks, Fannie!

      We’re still working on this. Something went wrong with the reconfiguration and now it thinks it’s a “blubber generator.”

  6. kerbey says:

    While wholly entertaining, all of this sounded like utter hogwash and crazy talk. But I checked it out and lo and behold, this is true! I’d heard of that book before, and now I realize why it was not required reading in high school. Ha! In fact, I found that “Tristram can never recover from the dispersal of the few ‘animal spirits’ which his aging father had mustered for the once-a-month occasion.” Oh, dear! This is pretty bawdy for being older than my country. Every time I hear that name, it sounds so uptight and British, like you have to purse your lips together to say the name properly, and raise your left eyebrow condescendingly–because you are quite aware that he’s quadrupally danged.

  7. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great.
    I don’t know who you are but certainly you are going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already
    😉 Cheers!

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