The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, a fictional autobiography of the eponymous narrator, contains—perhaps surprisingly—little about either his life or opinions, but what it does have is a meandering journey through the adventures of his close family and their associates. The book is famous for being more about the explanatory diversions and rabbit-holes that the narrator takes us down than the actual happenings he set out to describe, but in doing so he paints a vivid picture of the players and their personal stories.
Published two volumes at a time over the course of eight years, Tristram Shandy was an immediate commercial success although not without some confusion among critics. Sterne’s exploration of form that pushed at the contemporary limits of what could be called a novel has been hugely influential, garnering admirers as varied as Marx, Schopenhauer, Joyce, Woolf and Rushdie. The book has been translated into many other languages and adapted for the stage, radio, and film.
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