Here follows my First and Mildly, Somewhat, Plausibly Confused Opinion on the “Dedication Passage” in the Ostensibly Autobiographical work, by Mr. Laurence Sterne, “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy”

At the beginning of Chapter 1.IX (Sterne 12) Shandy breaks away from an absurd, rambling diatribe about hobbies to launch into an absurd, rambling dedication offered to members of a long and unnecessarily comprehensive list of titles. In this segment, Shandy demonstrates an irreverent tone towards the upper echelons of society which, given his other remarks on class and religion in the assigned reading, foreshadow the tone of satire he will use to parody British attitudes towards prestige. This declaration encapsulates many features of Sterne’s writing style. It meanders, taking an infuriating amount of time to come to its points: “nor has it been hawked about, or offered publicly or privately, directly or indirectly, to any one person or personage” (12) and there are many overly dramatic splashes of metaphor and imagery. I suspect that the long-winded and ebullient tone here is intended to resemble the complicated language found in European legal documents from this time period (paragraph-long disclaimers jammed into a single sentence and such). The text is full of self-conscious hesitation and backpedalling: “I labour this point so particularly, merely to remove any offence or objection” (12) creating a wry irony when juxtaposed against the narrator’s hypocrisy. He modestly points out that he hates “chaffering and higgling” (12) over small sums of money but within a few lines is nudging prospective buyers by claiming he has discounted the dedication.

The sale of titles and the corruption of human office has the potential to be a major theme in this autobiography (if you can call it that) as the narrator already indicates his opinions on fortune’s fickleness and the natural advantages being born into wealth or health bestows. This is supported by the narrative divergence into parables about characters like the midwife and Parson. These episodes have a certain resemblance to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, both provide personal sketches defined by profession and both address topics of class, greed and fallibility. Shandy’s mockery of the formal style attaches itself to a broader satirical perspective on the flowery redundancies of Victorian and Romantic etiquette. As relentlessly and deliberately pedantic as it is, Sterne’s prose here still attempts to maintain a conversational tone by directly addressing the reader, digressing from personal dramas to cerebral neuroticism and liberally incorporating the colloquial. I am unsure, but perhaps his intentions were to parody the chirpy Joie de Vivre attitude of the proper British middle class by reminding them of the weighted and rigorous standards of behaviour to which her citizens are held accountable. I really have no idea.

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