Tristram Shandy (First Edition) by Laurence Sterne



2015-06-26 10:30:03

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a novel by Laurence Sterne (1713-1768). The first edition of this work was published in nine volumes between 1759 and 1767 by Ann Ward (volumes 1-2 in 1759), Dodsley (3-4 in 1761) and Becket and DeHondt (5-6 in 1762, 7-8 in 1765, 9 in 1767). Background

Sterne incorporated several plagiarised passages, almost word for word, from sources such as Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, Francis Bacon’s Of Death and the writings of Rabelais. This was not noticed until many years after Sterne’s death, Tristram Shandy being highly admired for its originality until then. However, Sterne did this not to deceive people, but to present the passages in a new light, re-arranging them to make them humorous.

He made use of science and philosophy, religion and literature, to satirise modern society. The humour is bawdy, which was enjoyed by much of Sterne’s contemporary London society, if a little sneered upon by other writers.

Tristram Shandy is considered one of the greatest comic novels in the English language.

Plot, Characters, Themes

Tristram Shandy is a comic and bawdy fictional autobiography and bildungsroman. It follows the self-narrated life of Tristram, as he over-explains and dithers on details to comic effect. The action involves various domestic misunderstandings and mishaps, as Tristram’s internal narration attempts to understand the pitfalls and philosophies of life.

Philosopher John Locke’s theories of empiricism are examined, Tristram demonstrating the way someone assembles our knowledge of ourselves from the association of ideas. The novel is seen by many as a forerunner of stream-of-consciousness and self-reflexive writing.


Laurence Sterne was a clergyman turned writer, due to lack of funds and failing health. Tristram Shandy made his name.

Notable auction sales and collecting tips

Collecting all nine volumes of Tristram Shandy as they first appeared is a project to excite collectors of 18th century literature, especially as it was common for Sterne to sign certain volumes of this set. Often rebound in leather, if expertly done, these sets can make fine collections.

Complete sets of first editions sold at Christie’s for $8,813 in October 2001, and at Sothebys for $15,600 in December 2004.

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