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Analysis of Shelley’s Ozymandias

The poem uses the “narrative within the narrative” pattern. The speaker assumes the posture
of a mediator between the narrator-traveler and the reader. It is important to note that the
traveler comes from “an antique land”. This fact lends a legendary quality to the account and
makes it sound more objective. The speaker, as it were, steps into the background and lets the
detached voice of history speak for him.
The objective tone is undermined by the first touch of irony in the traveler’s story. The “legs
of stone”, which time has severed from the body, still “stand” in the boundless desert.
Without the trunk and the head, they are absolutely useless and their refusal to yield to the
destructive power of the sand makes the sight even more pathetic. Against the background of
the desperately standing legs, we see “a shattered visage”, which “half sunk…lies”. The face,
the most obvious symbol of identity, is all but buried, and all that is definitely left of the
statue of the once powerful ruler is a pair of limbs, which add no identity to the figure.
The ironic sense of loss is further reinforced by the very description of the “visage”.
Ozymandias, who in his day wielded enormous power, and could order an artist to preserve
his face for eternity, might have ended up tricked both by time and the sculptor’s hand. The
power of art to see through appearances and reach “the heart that fed” might have proved
more lasting than the political power of the ruler. Indeed what has survived is just the artist’s
vision of Ozymandias’ identity. What has stood the test of time are “those passions”, which
the artist has “stamped” on the now “lifeless” stone. Moreover, the artist’s hand has “mocked”
the passions on the ruler’s face. The verb “mock” means both “to imitate” and “to ridicule”.
In other words, the sculptor has not just reflected in his work what he saw on the face, but he
also intended to add a satirical touch to the reflection. This would mean that Ozymandias’
authority was subverted at the very moment when the sculpture was being made. The satirical
potential of art has remained beyond the reach of political power. So one of the messages of
the poem could be that art both outlasts and outdoes politics.
The words that appear on the statue are even less effective than the face in conveying the
message of the ruler’s might. As a matter of fact, in the context of the ruined figure, they
sound rather ambivalent. Should actually posterity despair because they could never meet the
high standards set by Ozymandias, or should they despair because time and the desert will be
as merciless to them as they were to the Egyptian pharaoh?

The answer is lost in the “boundless and bare”, “lone and level” sands. These alliterative pairs
of attributes make the reader see the transience of human ambitions, no matter how grand they
might seem to us while we still have them.

The Epic


The epic was ranked by Aristotle (in his Poetics) as second only to tragedy, and by
Renaissance critics as the highest genre of all. The literary epic is certainly the most ambitious
of poetic types, making immense demands on a poet’s knowledge, invention and skill to
sustain the scope, grandeur, and variety of a poem that tends to encompass the world of its
day and a large portion of its learning. Despite numerous attempts over nearly three thousand
years, we possess no more than a half dozen epic poems of indubitable greatness. Literary
epics are highly conventional poems, which commonly share the following features, derived
ultimately from the traditional epics of Homer:
The hero is a figure of great national or even cosmic importance. In the Iliad, he is the Greek
warrior Achilles, who is the son of a Nereid, Thetis; and Virgil’s Aeneas is the son of the
goddess Aphrodite. In Paradise Lost, Adam represents the entire human race, or if we regard
Christ as the hero, he is both God and man. Blake’s primal figure is the “universal man”
Albion who incorporates, before his fall, man and god and the cosmos as well.The setting of
the poem is ample in scale, and may be worldwide, or even larger. Odysseus wanders over the
Mediterranean basin (the whole of the world known to the author), and in Book XI, he
descends into the underworld (as does Virgil’s Aeneas). The scope of Paradise Lost is
cosmic, for it takes place on earth, heaven, and in hell.The action involves superhuman deeds
in battle, such as Achilles’ feats in the Trojan War, or a long and arduous journey intrepidly
accomplished, such as the wanderings of Odysseus on his way back to his homeland, despite
the opposition of some of the gods. Paradise Lost includes the war in heaven, the journey of
Satan through chaos to discover the newly created world, and his desperately audacious
attempt to outwit God by corrupting humanity, in which his success is ultimately frustrated by
the sacrificial enterprise of Christ. In these great actions, the gods and other supernatural
beings take an interest or an active part—the Olympian gods in Homer, and Jehovah, Christ,
and the angels in Paradise Lost. These supernatural agents were in the neoclassic age called
the machinery, in the sense that they were a part of the literary contrivances of the epic.An
epic poem is a ceremonial performance and is narrated in a ceremonial style, which is
deliberately distanced from ordinary speech and proportioned to the grandeur and formality of
the heroic subject matter and the epic architecture. Hence Milton’s “grand style”—his
Latinate diction and stylized syntax, his sonorous lists of names and wide-ranging allusions,
and his imitation of Homer’s epic similes and epithets. Also, the great catalogs of heroes,
weaponry, spoils, etc. are typical of the epic genre.

Epic Similes

Also called Homeric or extended similes, epic similes are formal and sustained similes in
which the secondary subject, or vehicle, is developed far beyond its specific points of parallel
to the primary subject, or tenor, becoming the more important aesthetic object for the
moment. Essentially, the epic simile is an involved, elaborated comparison introduced by

Homer and imitated by Virgil, Milton, and other writers of literary epics who employed it to
enhance the ceremonial quality of the epic style. An excerpt from the Iliad provides an
example of an epic simile:

And swift Achilles kept on coursing Hector, nonstop

as a hound in the mountains starts a fawn from its lair,
hunting him down the gorges, down the narrow glens
and the fawn goes to ground, hiding deep in brush
but the hound comes racing fast, nosing him out
until he lands his kill. (22.224-229)


Richardson's novel Pamela, subtitled Virtue Rewarded, was immensely popular when it
appeared in 1740. Richardson tells the story, through letters, of the repeated attempts of
Pamela's employee, Mr. B–, to seduce her and then to rape her. Won over by her virtue and
genteel delicacy, he marries her even thought she is a mere servant. In the view of many
readers, this novel equates "virtue" with virginity and the reward of virtue–or managing to
stay a virgin–is marriage, and the focus on seduction/rape ignores the diversity of life and of
human motivation. Fielding satirized Pamela with Shamela (1741), whose heroine is a
knowing, ambitious, self-centered manipulator. Then in the next year, he wrote Joseph
Andrews, which is a second satire of Pamela. Why Fielding wrote two parodies of one novel
is puzzling and a variety of explanations have been offered. What is clear is that, though
Joseph Andrews may have started as a satire of Pamela, it quickly outgrew that narrow
purpose and has amused generations of readers who never heard of Pamela. As Fielding
indicated on the title page of Joseph Andrews, he was imitating Cervantes's Don Quixote, so
that his novel is also a picaresque novel–or novel of the road–and an adventure novel. With
the introduction of Parson Adams, who has been called the first great comic hero in the
English novel and one of the glories of human nature, it also becomes a novel of character. In
keeping with Fielding's bent as a moralist and reformer, the satire extends beyond literary
matters to society itself, and Fielding exposes the vices and follies not merely of individuals,
but also of the upper classes, institutions, and society's values.


• Appearance versus reality. Who is truly virtuous, charitable, chaste, knowledgeable,
just, etc. and who merely pretends to be and/or has the reputation of being so?
Characters say one thing and mean another, or they act at variance with their speech.
How, in Fielding's view, can the reader distinguish the person who pretends out of
vanity or who is hypocritical from the truly good man/woman?
• Abuse of power, by individuals, classes, institutions.
• Inhumanity of individuals and society.
• Lust versus chastity.
• The nature of goodness. Fielding admired honesty, integrity, simplicity, and charity,
believed that virtue is seen in an individual's actions, but recognized the difficulty of
making moral judgments. How is the reader to judge the postilion who gave Joseph
his coat but was later convicted of stealing chickens? or Betty, who is charitable and
promiscuous? Nor do good men necessarily have harmonious relationships or

understand each other, as is seen in Adam's interactions with the Catholic priest and
the innkeeper previously hoodwinked by the "generous gentleman."
• Charity. (This theme is related to the issue of faith versus works.)
• Vanity. Are there degrees or kinds of vanity? The vanity of a Leonora is destructive,
but what is the effect of Adams's vanity (his pride in his worldly knowledge derived
from books, his pride in his sermons, and his pride in his excellence as a teacher)?
• City living versus living in retirement in the country. This was a common theme in
eighteenth century literature, as it had been in classical Roman literature. Wilson's
story contrasts the useless, aimless, destructive life of London with the idyllic, simple
pleasures of living in the country.

Some critics suggest that Fielding wrote for two different kinds of readers: the first set of
readers consisted of gentlemen like himself who had a classical education and similar values;
the second consisted of everyone else. Only the educated would have appreciated Fielding's
subtleties and learned allusions and satire. Fielding also addresses and manipulates a fictional
reader in his novel by attributing certain values or attitudes to that reader. Thus the reader
addressed or referred to in the novel and the narrator are both fictional characters Then, of
course, there are the actual readers–us. One way that Fielding uses the fictional reader is to
make us, the actual readers, aware of our own foibles, vanities, and hypocrisies

Here are some questions you might think about as you read or review the novel:
• Adams has been called a moral touchstone; that is, through contact with him, other
characters reveal, unintentionally and usually unperceived by Adams, their moral
natures. Does he serve this function in the novel?
• In view the number of fights Adams becomes involved in and the farcical incidents he
is the butt of (e.g., having hogs' blood dumped on him in one incident and urine in
another incident), is Adams's dignity, his basic decency, or his moral authority
diminished? or even canceled completely?
• Does Adams learn from his experiences?
• The title suggests that Joseph Andrews is the hero of the novel (the original title is The
History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and his Friend, Mr. Abraham Adams). Is
he? He is certainly what we would today call the romantic lead.
• Is this an education novel or bildungsroman? Does Joseph grow or develop on their
journey? The importance of a guide or mentor runs through the novel; both Leonora
and Mr. Wilson lack a mentor to guide them and to inculcate good values. Does
Adams serve as Joseph's mentor (and as a guide to his parishioners)? Does Joseph
come to be more understanding or more knowledgeable than Parson Adams upon
occasion? and his view more sensible?
• Are actions the only criterion for revealing a person's true character and moral nature?
• Does Fielding's practice in his novel conform to the literary theories he offers in the
preface and three books? Does he, for example, exclude portrayals of vice, as he
announces in the Preface? Does his theory of satire and the ridiculous (which he bases

on vanity and hypocrisy) apply to Adams? The ridiculous characters are intended to
make readers aware of their own vanities and hypocrisies, but would anyone reading
about Slipslop or Peter Pounce identify with either?
• Does Fielding present characters from the inside, so that the reader knows their
feelings and motives, or observe them from the outside? Are the characters presented
as they see themselves, as the narrator sees them, or as Fielding sees them?

Many readers and critics find the story rambling and haphazard, its incidents neither
connected to the protagonist (whether he is perceived to be Adams or Joseph) nor contributing
to the denouement. The two interpolated tales of Leonora and Wilson have no necessary
connection to the rest of the novel. And some find the ending unsatisfactory and


I offer these quotations to stimulate your thinking, not necessarily because they reflect my
Mark Spilka: "Fielding always attempted to show that virtue can be a successful way of life."
Maynard Mack asserts that in comedy the reader's point of view must be continuous with "not
the character's but the author's."
According to Andrew Wright, Fielding "elevated the novel... to the level of serious
Arthur Sherbo: "Without Parson Adams and Mrs. Slipslop, Joseph Andrews is nothing."
Martin C. Battestin sees in Adams "the Christian hero, the representative of good nature and
charity, which form the heart of morality."
F. Homes Dudden is "impressed by the wideness of the gulf which seems to separate the
classes–the ‘high people' from the ‘low people..."

Pope, Alexander

Pope, Alexander (b. May 21, 1688, London, Eng.--d. May 30, 1744, Twickenham, near
London), poet and satirist of the English Augustan period, best known for his poems An
Essay on Criticism (1711), The Rape of the Lock (1712-14), The Dunciad (1728), and An
Essay on Man (1733-34). He is one of the most quotable of all English authors. Pope's father,
a wholesale linen merchant, retired from business in the year of his son's birth and in 1700
went to live at Binfield in Windsor Forest. The Popes were Roman Catholics, and at Binfield
they came to know several neighbouring Catholic families who were to play an important part
in the poet's life. Pope's religion procured him some lifelong friends, notably the wealthy
squire John Caryll (who persuaded him to write The Rape of the Lock, on an incident
involving Caryll's relatives) and Martha Blount, to whom Pope addressed some of the most
memorable of his poems and to whom he bequeathed most of his property. But his religion
also precluded him from a formal course of education; he was trained at home by Catholic
priests for a short time and attended Catholic schools at Twyford, near Winchester, and at
Hyde Park Corner, London, but he was mainly self-educated. He was a precocious boy,
eagerly reading Latin, Greek, French, and Italian, which he managed to teach himself, and an
incessant scribbler, turning out verse upon verse in imitation of the poets he read. The best of

these early writings are the "Ode on Solitude" and a paraphrase of St. Thomas а Kempis, both
of which he claimed to have written at the age of 12.

Windsor Forest was near enough to London to permit Pope's frequent visits there. He early
grew acquainted with former members of John Dryden's circle, notably William Wycherley,
William Walsh, and Henry Cromwell. By 1705 his "Pastorals" were in draft and were
circulating among the best literary judges of the day. In 1706 Jacob Tonson, the leading
publisher of poetry, had solicited their publication, and they took the place of honour in his
Poetical Miscellanies in 1709. This early emergence of a man of letters may have been
assisted by Pope's poor physique. As a result of too much study, so he thought, he acquired a
curvature of the spine and some tubercular infection, probably Pott's disease, that limited his
growth and seriously impaired his health. His full-grown height was four feet six inches; but
the grace of his profile and fullness of his eye gave him an attractive appearance. He was a
lifelong sufferer from headaches, and his deformity made him abnormally sensitive to
physical and mental pain. Though he was able to ride a horse and delighted in travel, he was
inevitably precluded from much normal physical activity, and his energetic, fastidious mind
was largely directed to reading and writing. When the "Pastorals" were published, Pope was
already at work on a poem on the art of writing. This was An Essay on Criticism, published in
1711. Its brilliantly polished epigrams (e.g., "A little learning is a dangerous thing," "To err is
human, to forgive, divine," and "For fools rush in where angels fear to tread"), which have
become part of the proverbial heritage of the language, are readily traced to their sources in
Horace, Quintilian, Boileau, and other critics, ancient and modern, in verse and prose; but the
charge that the poem is derivative, so often made in the past, takes insufficient account of
Pope's success in harmonizing a century of conflict in critical thinking and in showing how
nature may best be mirrored in art. The well-deserved success of the Essay on Criticism
brought Pope a wider circle of friends, notably Richard Steele and Joseph Addison, who were
then collaborating in The Spectator. To this journal Pope contributed the most original of his
pastorals, "The Messiah" (1712), and perhaps other papers in prose. He was clearly influenced
by its policy of correcting public morals by witty admonishment, and in this vein he wrote the
first version of his mock-epic, The Rape of the Lock (two cantos, 1712; five cantos, 1714), to
reconcile two Catholic families. A young man in one family had stolen a lock of hair from a
young lady in the other. Pope treated the dispute that followed as though it were comparable
to the mighty quarrel between Greeks and Trojans, which had been Homer's theme. Telling
the story with all the pomp and circumstance of epic made not only the participants in the
quarrel but also the society in which they lived seem ridiculous. Though it was a society
. . . Britain's statesmen oft the fall foredoom
Of foreign tyrants, and of nymphs at home;
as if one occupation concerned them as much as the other; and though in such a society a
young lady might do equally ill to
. . . Stain her honour, or her new brocade;
Forget her pray'rs, or miss a masquerade;

Pope managed also to suggest what genuine attractions existed amid the foppery and glitter.
He acknowledged how false the sense of values was that paid so much attention to external
appearance, but ridicule and rebuke slide imperceptibly into admiration and tender affection
as the heroine, Belinda, is conveyed along the Thames to Hampton Court, the scene of the
But now secure the painted vessel glides,
The sunbeams trembling on the floating tides:
While melting music steals upon the sky,
And soften'd sounds along the waters die;
Smooth flow the waves, the zephyrs gently play,
Belinda smil'd, and all the world was gay.
A comparable blend of seemingly incompatible responses--love and hate, bawdiness and
decorum, admiration and ridicule--is to be found in all Pope's later satires. Pope had also been
at work for several years on "Windsor-Forest." In this poem, completed and published in
1713, he proceeded, as Virgil had done, from the pastoral vein to the georgic and celebrated
the rule of Queen Anne as the Latin poet had celebrated the rule of Augustus. In another early
poem, "Eloisa to Abelard," Pope borrowed the form of Ovid's "heroic epistle" (in which an
abandoned lady addresses her lover) and showed imaginative skill in conveying the struggle
between sexual passion and dedication to a life of celibacy. Homer and "The Dunciad." These
poems and other works were collected in the first volume of Pope's Works in 1717. When it
was published, he was already far advanced with the greatest labour of his life, his verse
translation of Homer. He had announced his intentions in October 1713 and had published the
first volume, containing the Iliad, Books I-IV, in 1715. The Iliad was completed in six
volumes in 1720. The work of translating the Odyssey (vol. i-iii, 1725; vol. iv and v, 1726)
was shared with William Broome, who had contributed notes to the Iliad, and Elijah Fenton.
The labour had been great, but so were the rewards. By the two translations Pope cleared
about Ј 10,000 and was able to claim that, thanks to Homer, he could " . . . live and
thrive/Indebted to no Prince or Peer alive." The merits of Pope's Homer lie less in the
accuracy of translation and in correct representation of the spirit of the original than in the
achievement of a heroic poem as his contemporaries understood it; a poem Virgilian in its
dignity, moral purpose, and pictorial splendour, yet one that consistently kept Homer in view
and alluded to him throughout. Pope offered his readers the Iliad and the Odyssey as he felt
sure Homer would have written them had he lived in early 18th-century England. Political
considerations had affected the success of the translation. As a Roman Catholic his affiliations
were Tory rather than Whig; and though he retained the friendship of such Whigs as William
Congreve, Nicholas Rowe, and Charles Jervas the painter, his ties with Steele and Addison
grew looser owing to the political animosity at the end of Queen Anne's reign, and he found
new and lasting friends in Tory circles--Jonathan Swift, John Gay, John Arbuthnot, Thomas
Parnell, the Earl of Oxford, and Viscount Bolingbroke. With the first five he was associated
(1713-14) in the Scriblerus Club to write joint satires on pedantry, later to mature as Peri
Bathouse, Or the Art of Sinking in Poetry (1728) and the "Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus"
(1741); and these were the men who encouraged his translation of Homer. The Whigs, who
associated with Addison at Button's Coffee-House, put up a rival translator in Thomas
Tickell, who published his version of Iliad, Book I, two days after Pope's. Addison preferred
Tickell's manifestly inferior version; his praise increased the resentment Pope already felt
owing to a series of slights and misunderstandings; and when Pope heard gossip of further
malice on Addison's part, he sent him a satirical view of his character, published later as the

character of Atticus, the insincere arbiter of literary taste in the "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot"
Even before the Homer quarrel, Pope had found that the life of a wit was a perpetual warfare.
There were few years when either his person or his poems were not objects of attacks from
the critic John Dennis, the bookseller Edmund Curll, the historian John Oldmixon, and other
writers of lesser fame. The climax was reached over his edition of Shakespeare. He had
emended the plays, in the spirit of a literary editor, to accord with contemporary taste (1725);
but his practice was exposed by the scholar Lewis Theobald in Shakespeare Restored (1726).
Though Pope had ignored some of these attacks, he had replied to others with squibs in prose
and verse. But he now attempted to make an end of the opposition and to defend his
standards, which he aligned with the standards of civilized society, in the mock-epic The
Dunciad (1728). Theobald was represented in it as the Goddess of Dullness' favourite son, a
suitable hero for those leaden times; and others who had given offense were preserved like
flies in amber. Pope dispatches his victims with such sensuousness of verse and imagery that
the reader is forced to admit that if there is petulance here, as has often been claimed, it is, to
parody Wordsworth, petulance recollected in tranquility. Pope reissued the poem in 1729 with
an elaborate mock-commentary of prefaces, notes, appendixes, indexes, and errata; this
burlesque of pedantry whimsically suggested that The Dunciad had fallen a victim to the spirit
of the times and been edited by a dunce.

Life at Twickenham
Pope and his parents had moved from Binfield to Chiswick in 1716. There his father died
(1717), and two years later he and his mother rented a villa on the Thames at Twickenham, at
that time a small country town where several Londoners had retired to live in rustic seclusion.
This was to be Pope's home for the remainder of his life. There he entertained such friends as
Swift, Bolingbroke, Oxford, and Jonathan Richardson the painter. These friends were all
enthusiastic gardeners, and it was Pope's pleasure to advise and superintend the laying out of
their landscape grounds on the best contemporary principles, formulated in his "Epistle to the
Right Honourable Richard Earl of Burlington" (1731). This poem, one of the most
characteristic works of his maturity, is a rambling discussion in the manner of Horace on false
taste in architecture and design, with some suggestions for the worthier employment of a
nobleman's wealth. Pope now began to contemplate a new work on the relations of man,
nature, and society that would be a grand organization of human experience and intuition, but
he was destined never to complete it. An Essay on Man (1733-34) was intended as the
introductory book discussing the overall design. The poem has often been charged with
shallowness and philosophical inconsistency, and there is indeed little that is original in its
thought, almost all of which can be traced in the work of the great thinkers of Western
civilization. Subordinate themes were treated in greater detail in "Of the Use of Riches, An
Epistle to Bathurst" (1732), "An Epistle to Cobham, Of the knowledge and characters of men"
(1733), and "Of The Characters of Women: an Epistle to a Lady" (1735). He was deflected
from this "system of ethics in the Horatian way" by the renewed need for self-defense.
Critical attacks drove him to consider his position as satirist. He chose to adapt for his own
defense the first satire of Horace's second book, where the ethics of satire are propounded,
and, after discussing the question in correspondence with Dr. John Arbuthnot, he addressed to
him an epistle in verse (1735), one of the finest of his later poems, in which were incorporated
fragments written over several years. His case was the satirist's traditional case: that depravity
in public morals had roused him to stigmatize outstanding offenders beyond the reach of the
law, concealing the names of some and representing others as types, and that he was innocent
of personal rancour and habitually forbearing under attack. The success of his "First Satire Of
the Second Book Of Horace, Imitated" (1733) led to the publication (1734-38) of 10 more of

these paraphrases of Horatian themes adapted to the contemporary social and political scene.
Pope's poems followed Horace's satires and epistles sufficiently closely for him to print the
Latin on facing pages with the English; but whoever chose to make the comparison would
notice a continuous enrichment of the original by parenthetic thrusts and compliments, as well
as by the freshness of the imagery. The series was concluded with two dialogues in verse,
republished as the "Epilogue to the Satires" (1738), where, as in the "Epistle to Dr.
Arbuthnot," Pope ingeniously combined a defense of his own career and character with a
restatement of the satirist's traditional apology. In these imitations and dialogues Pope
directed his attack upon the materialistic standards of the commercially minded Whigs in
power and upon the corrupting effect of money, while restating and illustrating the old
Horatian standards of serene and temperate living. His anxiety about prevailing standards was
shown once more in his last completed work, The New Dunciad (1742), reprinted as the
fourth book of a revised Dunciad (1743), in which Theobald was replaced as hero by Colley
Cibber, the poet laureate and actor-manager, who not only had given more recent cause of
offense but seemed a more appropriate representative of the degenerate standards of the age.
In Dunciad, Book IV, the Philistine culture of the city of London was seen to overtake the
court and seat of government at Westminster, and the poem ends in a magnificent but baleful
prophecy of anarchy. Pope had begun work on Brutus, an epic poem in blank verse, and on a
revision of his poems for a new edition, but neither was complete at his death.

Pope's favourite metre was the 10-syllable, iambic pentameter rhyming (heroic) couplet. He
handled it with increasing skill and adapted it to such varied purposes as the epigrammatic
summary of the Essay on Criticism, the pathos of "Verses to the Memory of an Unfortunate
Lady," the mock-heroic of The Rape of the Lock, the discursive tones of the Essay on Man,
the rapid narrative of the Homer translation, and the Miltonic sublimity of the conclusion of
The Dunciad. But his greatest triumphs of versification are found in the "Epilogue to the
Satires," where he moves easily from witty, spirited dialogue to noble and elevated
declamation, and in the "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot," which opens with a scene of domestic
irritation suitably conveyed in broken rhythm:
Shut, shut the door, good John! fatigu'd, I said:
Tie up the knocker, say I'm sick, I'm dead.
The Dog-star rages! nay 'tis past a doubt,
All Bedlam, or Parnassus, is let out:
Fire in each eye, and papers in each hand,
They rave, recite, and madden round the land;
and closes with a deliberately chosen contrast of domestic calm, which the poet may be said
to have deserved and won during the course of the poem:
Me, let the tender office long engage
To rock the cradle of reposing age,
With lenient arts extend a mother's breath,
Make languor smile, and smooth the bed
of death,
Explore the thought, explain the asking eye,
And keep a while one parent from the sky!

Pope's command of diction is no less happily adapted to his theme and to the type of poem,
and the range of his imagery is remarkably wide. He has been thought defective in
imaginative power, but this opinion cannot be sustained in view of the invention and
organizing ability shown notably in The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad. He was the first
English poet to enjoy contemporary fame in France and Italy and throughout the European
continent and to see translations of his poems into modern as well as ancient languages.
Related Internet Links:
Selected Poetry and Prose of Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
The Rape of the Lock: Canto I
The Rape of the Lock: Canto II
Sound and Sense
An Essay on Criticism

The following comes from the Twickenham Edition of Pope's poems:

"The families concerned in the Rape of the Lock--the Fermors, Petres, and Carylls--were
prominent members of that group of great intermarried Roman Catholic families owning land
in the home counties, most of whom came within the circle of Pope's friends and
acquaintances and to whom Pope considered his own family to belong. Some time before 21
March, 1712, when Pope sold his poem to Lintott, Robert, Lord Petre had cut off a lock of
Arabella Fermor's hair, and John Caryll had suggested to Pope that he should write a poem to
heal the estrangement that followed between the two families:
The stealing of Miss Belle Fermor's hair, was taken too seriously, and caused an
estrangement between the two families, though they had lived so long in great
friendship before. A common acquaintance and well-wisher to both, desired me to
write a poem to make a jest of it, and laugh them together again. It was with this view
that I wrote the Rape of the Lock.
The incident behind the poem has never been authoritatively tracked down to place and time.
It is improbable, but possible, that it happened, as the poem states, at Hampton Court; and the
counter-claims of the houses of the Fermors, Petres, or Carylls have never been
substantiated." (Twickenham, Vol II, p. 83). Was Belinda, as the poem hints, willing to marry
the Baron? "Arabella may well have been considered as the possible bride for Lord Petre. The
rape of the lock may well have been an incident in the period of circumspection--how
thorough such circumspection was likely to be may be gathered from the correspondence of
Caryll during 1710-11 when he was choosing a wife for his son. If two such families who 'had
lived so long in friendship before' are estranged through a fairly trivial incident, it seems there
is thunder in the air. All the fun of the poem read very differently when, less than two months
before the poem was published, Lord Petre married Catherine Warmsley, a Lancashire heiress
some seven or more years younger than Arabella and much richer." (Twickenham 93)
By the time Pope revised the poem in 1717, Lord Petre had died (of smallpox) and Arabella
was married. Whatever the original purpose of the poem may have been, by the time Pope
finished revising The Rape of the Lock the feud between the families was no longer
particularly relevant.

What is Romanticism?



A movement in art and literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in revolt against
the Neoclassicism of the previous centuries...The German poet Friedrich Schlegel, who is
given credit for first using the term romantic to describe literature, defined it as "literature
depicting emotional matter in an imaginative form." This is as accurate a general definition as
can be accomplished, although Victor Hugo's phrase "liberalism in literature" is also apt.
Imagination, emotion, and freedom are certainly the focal points of romanticism. Any list of
particular characteristics of the literature of romanticism includes subjectivity and an
emphasis on individualism; spontaneity; freedom from rules; solitary life rather than life in
society; the beliefs that imagination is superior to reason and devotion to beauty; love of and
worship of nature; and fascination with the past, especially the myths and mysticism of the
middle ages. English poets: William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron,
Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats. American poets: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel
Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman


The dominant literary movement in England during the late seventeenth century and the
eighteenth century, which sought to revive the artistic ideals of classical Greece and Rome.
Neoclassicism was characterized by emotional restraint, order, logic, technical precision,
balance, elegance of diction, an emphasis of form over content, clarity, dignity, and decorum.
Its appeals were to the intellect rather than to the emotions, and it prized wit over imagination.
As a result, satire and didactic literature flourished, as did the essay, the parody, and the
burlesque. In poetry, the heroic couplet was the most popular verse form. Writers: John
Dryden, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison, and Samuel Johnson.

Neoclassicism combines the following tenets:

1. a regard for tradition and reverence for the classics, with an accompanying distrust of

2. a sense of literature as art--that is, as something "artificed" or "artificial," made by craft;

hence the value put on "rules," conventions, "decorum," the properties of received genres.

3. a concern for social reality, and the communal commonplaces of thought which hold it

4. a concern for "nature"--or the way things are (and should be). This relates back to the
distrust of innovation and inherent conservatism of neoclassicism. The artistic rules of old, for
instance, Pope describes as having been "discovered, not devised" and are "Nature
methodized"; so too, "Nature and Homer" are "the same" (Essay on Criticism 88ff., 135). This
belief in "nature" implies a conviction that there is a permanent, universal way things are (and
should be), which obviously entails fundamental political and ethical commitments.

5. a concern with "pride" as the root of threats to the above. We might see pride as in part
standing for individual self assertion against the status quo ("nature"). Pope:

Of all the causes which conspire to blind

Man's erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools.


The American Scholar A.O. Lovejoy once observed that the word 'romantic' has come to
mean so many things that, by itself, it means nothing at all...The variety of its actual and
possible meanings and connotations reflect the complexity and multiplicity of European
romanticism. In The Decline and Fall of the Romantic Ideal (1948) F.L. Lucas counted
11,396 definitions of 'romanticism'. In Classic, Romantic and Modern (1961) Barzun cites
examples of synonymous usage for romantic which show that it is perhaps the most
remarkable example of a term which can mean many things according to personal and
individual needs.

The word romantic (ism) has a complex and interesting history. In the Middle Ages 'romance'
denoted the new vernacular languages derived from Latin - in contradistinction to Latin itself,
which was the language of learning. Enromancier, romancar, romanz meant to compose or
translate books in the vernacular. The work produced was then called romanz, roman,
romanzo and romance. A roman or romant came to be known as an imaginative work and a
'courtly romance'. The terms also signified a 'popular book'. There are early suggestions that it
was something new, different, divergent. By the 17th c. in Britain and France, 'romance' has
acquired the derogatory connotations of fanciful, bizarre, exaggerated, chimerical. In France a
distinction was made between romanesque (also derogatory) and romantique (which meant
'tender', 'gentle', 'sentimental' and 'sad'). It was used in the English form in these latter senses
in the 18th c. In Germany the word romantisch was used in the 17th c. in the French sense of
romanesque, and then, increasingly from the middle of the 18th c., in the English sense of
'gentle', 'melancholy'.

Many hold to the theory that it was in Britain that the romantic movement really started. At
any rate, quite early in the 18th c. one can discern a definite shift in sensibility and feeling,
particularly in relation to the natural order and Nature. This, of course, is hindsight. When we
read Keats, Coleridge and Wordsworth, for instance, we gradually become aware that many
of their sentiments and responses are foreshadowed by what has been described as a 'pre-
romantic sensibility'.
From Neo-Classicism to Romanticism
Neo-Classicism, Age of Reason,

head heart
reason feeling, passion, imagination
humans as social beings (products
humans as natural beings (products of Nature)
of social order)
questioning of authority, identification with and love of
respect for authority
symmetry, balance, harmony diagonals, dynamic motion
stability challenge to status quo
hierarchy democracy
universality individualism, egocentrism
conformity, representative truths eccentricity, idiosyncrasy
tradition originality
decorum rebellion against form
measure and proportion intensity, excess
clarity, simplicity mysticism, ornateness
restraint, self-restraint indulgence of feeling
public, daytime orientation private, night orientation; joys of solitude
rational sense to universe:
mysterious universe: hidden, dark forces, the supernatural
patterns, laws, meaning
mechanistic world organic world
present world exotic and medieval subjects
real world yearning for the infinite and the ideal
sensibility as moral force
sense of the sublime
melancholy musings
importance of childhood and the past
impossibility of happy love
Noble Savage
Byronic hero
Gothic world: morbid, forbidden impulses, animality, illicit
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, French writer. "Exister, pour nous,
René Decartes, French
c'est sentir: et notre sensibilité est incontestablement
philosopher. "Cogito ergo sum."
antérieure à notre raison." ("For us, existence is feeling: and
("I think: therefore I am.")
our capacity to feel inarguably precedes our reason.") Moral
Discourse of Method (1637).

Major authors: George Etherege, William Wycherley, William Congreve, George

Recommended reading: George Etherege The Man of Mode; William Wycherley The
Country Wife; William Congreve Love for Love [ Three Restoration Comedies,
Penguin, 1968] - available in British Council Resource Centre

Introduction to the characteristics of Restoration Comedy: The plays,

which fall under the historical label Restoration comedy, are usually
entitled, as far as their genre is concerned, comedy of manners or
artificial comedy. The latter titles could be regarded as dismissive
because artificial suggests that the plays are divorced from real life and
manners implies that they deal with superficial characteristics of men and
women, imposed by a sophisticated and artificial society rather than with
the permanent manifestations of human nature and with universal human
problems. Although this is to a large extent true, some critics believe
that "the authors of these plays were concerned with fundamental questions
of human behaviour - in fact, with morals - as well as with the superficial
and transient manners of an age." (Kenneth Muir The Comedy of Manners)
To understand the ethos of the comedy of manners it is important to
consider the social context of the Restoration stage. The end of the so
called interregnum period (the years between the decapitation of Charles I
and the Restoration) brought to the foreground new ideals. Having passed
through the bitter experience of a Puritan-dominated social scene, The King
(Charles II) and the younger generation of aristocracy were all too willing
to divest themselves of the heavy burden of moral restraints. They had been
"demoralised by the break-up of their education and family life, by exile
and confiscation leading to the mean shifts of sudden poverty, by the
endurance of injustice done to them in the name of religion, by the
constant spectacle of oaths and covenants lightly taken and lightly broken,
and all the base underside of revolution and counter-revolution of which
they had been the victims."(G.M.Trevelyan English Social History).
The stage, reflecting the society for which it caters, immediately
took advantage of the new climate of cynicism and sexual freedom.
From the very beginning Restoration comedy has been denigrated for
its licentiousness, for transgressing the norms of decency and morality. As
early as 1668, when the new comedy was at the height of its glory, Shadwell
denounced its "two chief persons", the hero and the heroine, as "a
Swearing, Drinking, Whoring Ruffian for a Lover, and an impudent, ill-bred
tomrig for a Mistress". In 1695 Richard Blackmore also complained that such
characters couldn't serve as "Patterns of Sense and Virtue for our Young
Ladies and Gentlemen." The most famous attack came from Jeremy Collier. In
his A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English
Stage(1698) he claimed: "The stage seldom gives Quarter to anything that is
serviceable or Significant, but persecutes Worth and Goodness under every
Appearance...Libertininsm and Profaneness, Dressing, Idleness, and
Gallantry are the only valuable Qualities."

The pattern of Restoration comedy: The comedy of manners depicts a small

world which has a distinct territory of its own - the fashionable parts of
the London of Charles II's time. Its main activities take place in the
public gardens like Hyde Park, St. James's Park, Mulberry Garden,
fashionable clubs, houses and drawing-rooms of the aristocratic and
leisured classes. Its inhabitants seldom move out of this charming world
unless it be in search of adventure with the wife of a citizen.
This world values form and style both in speech and conduct, and
places good breeding far above moral excellence. The pursuit of pleasure is
the chief business of the characters in Restoration comedy. "Come, come,
Bellmour says to Vainlove in the opening scene of Congreve's The Old
Bachelor, "leave Business to Idlers, and Wisdom to Fools; they have need of
'em: Wit, be my Faculty, and Pleasure, my Occupation; and let Father Time
shake his Glass".

Restoration comedy follows a character pattern which matches the
spirit and values of its world. A couple or two of fine gentlemen and
ladies occupy the centre of these comedies. They are aristocrats by birth
and breeding, rich and idle, cynical and witty, amorous and gay. They
provide the standard by which other characters are judged.
Some lesser luminaries are gathered around the central characters.
There are some fops and coxcombs, one or two citizens and country girls,
some prostitutes and bawds, servants and maids.
Fops and fools are the most important among these lesser characters.
They strive to ape the accomplished gentlemen, but fail to do so through
want of wit, judgment and manners. Failing to enter the privileged circle
of the wits, they expose themselves to ridicule. They come into continuous
collision with the wits and thus provide the character contrast necessary
to the scheme of these comedies in which, as Hazlitt says, "wit and folly,
elegance and awkward imitation of it, set one another off."
The citizens and the country squires are ridiculed for their awkward
manners, and those who espouse the conventional morality are satirized and
exposed to derision.
The plots of these comedies deal with the complications which most
commonly arise in such a society, and follow a pattern which is repeated,
with slight modifications, in play after play. The gallants are usually
involved in attempt to cuckold a husband, to seduce a lady, or to
disentangle themselves from an affair which has ceased to be interesting.
There are also intrigues to hoodwink interfering or unsympathetic elders.
Hypocritical or squeamish persons are laughed at, and the fops are
invariably punished for their pretensions.
Most of the plots appear to have been chiefly designed as a means of
exhibiting human ingenuity, and as a means of providing occasion for witty
discussion of manners. The dramatists use several common devices, such as
disguise, eavesdropping, forging of letters, to complicate their plots.

Perceptions of Satire in Gulliver's Travels

In 1726, Jonathan Swift published a book for English readers. On the surface, this book
appears to be a travel log, made to chronicle the adventures of a man, Lemuel Gulliver, on the
four most incredible voyages imaginable. Primarily, however, Gulliver's Travels is a work of
satire. "Gulliver is neither a fully developed character nor even an altogether distinguishable
persona; rather, he is a satiric device enabling Swift to score satirical points" (Rodino 124).
Indeed, whereas the work begins with more specific satire, attacking perhaps one political
machine or aimed at one particular custom in each instance, it finishes with "the most savage
onslaught on humanity ever written," satirizing the whole of the human condition. (Murry 3).
In order to convey this satire, Gulliver is taken on four adventures, driven by fate, a restless
spirit, and the pen of Swift. Gulliver's first journey takes him to the Land of Lilliput, where he
finds himself a giant among six inch tall beings. His next journey brings him to Brobdingnag,
where his situation is reversed: now he is the midget in a land of giants. His third journey
leads him to Laputa, the floating island, inhabited by strange (although similarly sized) beings
who derive their whole culture from music and mathematics. Gulliver's fourth and final
journey places him in the land of the Houyhnhnm, a society of intelligent, reasoning horses.
As Swift leads Gulliver on these four fantastical journeys, Gulliver's perceptions of himself
and the people and things around him change, giving Swift ample opportunity to inject into
the story both irony and satire of the England of his day and of the human condition.

Swift ties his satire closely with Gulliver's perceptions and adventures. In Gulliver's first
adventure, he begins on a ship that runs aground on a submerged rock. He swims to land, and
when he awakens, he finds himself tied down to the ground, and surrounded by tiny people,
the Lilliputians. "Irony is present from the start in the simultaneous recreation of Gulliver as
giant and prisoner" (Reilly 167). Gulliver is surprised "at the intrepidity of these diminutive

mortals, who dare venture to mount and walk upon my body" (I.i.16), but he admires this
quality in them. Gulliver eventually learns their language, and arranges a contract with them
for his freedom. However, he is bound by this agreement to protect Lilliput from invasion by
the people of Blefuscu. The Lilliputians relate to him the following story: In Lilliput, years
ago, people once broke eggs on the big end. However, the present king's grandfather once cut
himself breaking the egg in this manner, so the King at the time, the father of the present
king's grandfather, issued an edict that all were to break the eggs on the small end. Some of
the people resisted, and they found refuge in Blefuscu, and "for six and thirty moons past" the
two sides have been at war (I.iv.48). Of course, to Gulliver, such an argument would be
completely ridiculous, for he could hardly distinguish the difference in the ends of their eggs.
For Swift, Lilliput is analogous to England, and Blefuscu to France. With this event of the
story Swift satirizes the needless bickering and fighting between the two nations.

Also vehicles of Swift's satire were the peculiar customs of the nation of Lilliput. The
methods of selecting people for public office in Lilliput are very different from that of any
other nation, or rather, would appear to be so at first. In order to be chosen, a man must "rope
dance" to the best of his abilities; the best rope dancer receives the higher office. While no
nation of Europe in Swift's time followed such an absurd practice, they did not choose public
officers on skill, but rather on how well the candidate could line the right pockets with money.
Gulliver also tells of their custom of burying "their dead with their heads directly
downwards...The learned among them confess the absurdity of this doctrine, but the practice
still continues" ( At this point in the story, Gulliver has not yet realized that by seeing
the absurdity of the Lilliputians' traditions, that he might see the absurdity in European ones.
With this Swift satirizes the conditions of Europe.

As Swift's story of Gulliver unfolds, the satire begins to take a much more general focus:
humanity as a whole. Gulliver manages to escape the land of miniature, and after a brief stay
in England, returns to the sea. Again, he finds himself in a strange land, but this time, he is the
small one, with everything around him many times the normal size. Unlike the Lilliputians,
however, he is alone in this world. When he encounters the first natives, he fears for his life,
"for as human creatures are observed to be more savage in proportion to their bulk" (II.i.96).
This is but one of the many attacks on humanity that Swift's satire will perform. While in
Lilliput Gulliver had been treated with respect, largely due to his size; here in this land of
giants, Brobdingnag, he is treated as a curiosity, forced to perform shows for public
amusement, until the royalty of this nation learn of his presence. During the time Gulliver
spends at this court, he relates much of the situation of Europe to the king, who listens with
much eagerness. Gulliver tells us:

I would hide the frailties and deformities of my political

mother, and place her virtues and beauties in the most
advantageous light. This was my sincere endeavor in those
many discourses I had with that mighty monarch, although it
unfortunately failed of success (II.vii.156).
However well he tried to speak of England, he did not manage to tell only "her virtues."
Instead, much of what he so faithfully speaks to the King is actually the vice and immorality
to be found in England. This is what the King of Brobdingnag learns from Gulliver's stories:
My little friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable
panegyric upon your country; you have clearly proved that
ignorance, idleness vice may sometimes be the only
ingredients for qualifying a legislator; that laws are best

explained, interpreted, and applied by those whose
interests and abilities lie in perverting them ... I am
dwell disposed to hope you may hitherto have escaped many
vices of your country. But by what I have gathered from
your own relation ... I cannot but conclude the bulk of
your natives to be the most pernicious race of little
odious vermin that ever suffered to crawl upon the surface
of the earth (
Gulliver excuses the King for these remarks, believing that "great allowances should be given
to a king who lives wholly secluded from the rest of the world" (II.vii.156). Although the
reader may find the king to be correct, Gulliver does not, even though he should "admit that
the workings of the parliamentary government is vitiated by the method of selecting peers ...
so that ... the original idea of the institution is 'blurred and blotted by corruptions" (Firth 10),
and so Swift must take him on another voyage to shed light upon the matter for him.

Before embarking on his third voyage, Gulliver returns home. However, he is "confounded at
the sight of so many pygmies, for such I took them to be," speaking of the men who rescued
him, having for so long been accustomed to viewing people many times his own size
(II.viii.170). They return him home; however, Gulliver's restless spirit will not allow him to
remain long. Again he left home, and this time he ended up in the realm of Laputa, the
floating island. His first impression of the people is not very good; for although they are
highly skilled in mathematics, Gulliver has "not seen a more clumsy, awkward, and unhandy
people, nor so slow and perplexed in their conception of other subjects" (III.ii.191). By this
point in the story, Swifts own views of humanity begin to show through Gulliver, as Gulliver
relates, "But rather I take this quality to spring from a very common infirmity of human
nature" (III.ii.192). Gulliver doesn't remain long on the island of Laputa. He instead goes
down to the surface, and in time makes his way to Glubbdubdrib, the Island of Sorcerers. The
Governor of this island allows Gulliver to listen to numerous people from history, both the
distant and near past. In this place, Gulliver comes face-to-face with the negative aspects of
human nature. Up to this point, he began to see these qualities; now, he is directly confronted
with them as he listens to the great men of the past. "I was chiefly disgusted with modern
history," Gulliver tells, and "How low an opinion I had of human wisdom and integrity, when
I was truly informed" (III.viii.236). Swift, by "drawing our attention repeatedly to this idea of
steady human degeneration and the natural depravity of human nature, Swift seems to suggest
broadly that man must realize that he is degenerate in order to strive for moral regeneration"
(Lee 119). At this point in the story, Gulliver, as well as the reader, are plainly aware of
Swift's understanding of human nature and his negative view of it.

It is during Gulliver's fourth journey that Swift's satire reaches its pinnacle, where "Swift put
his most biting, hard lines, that speak against not only the government, but human nature
itself" (Glicksman). In this journey, Gulliver comes to the land of the Houyhnhnms, which are
creatures that look like horses but have the ability to reason. Also in this land are the Yahoos,
of which Gulliver could only say that "Upon the whole, I never beheld in all my travels so
disagreeable an animal, nor one against which I naturally conceived so strong an antipathy"
(IV.i.263). With great irony, Swift brings Gulliver into contact with a Yahoo once again. "My
horror and astonishment are not to be described, when I observed in this abdominal animal a
perfect human figure" (IV.ii.269-270). Indeed, Gulliver finds that the only difference between
himself and the Yahoo to be the Yahoo's lack of cleanliness and clothes; otherwise, a Yahoo
would be indistinguishably human. With this line, Swift's satire achieves its goal, and shows

that the flaws of humanity are overwhelming, and let to continue, result in a total degradation
of the human.

Taken on four voyages, Gulliver's ultimate travels are to a greater understanding of human
nature and its flaws. Matthew Levy argues that as the "visited society" has an effect on
Gulliver, "he no longer can be said to function as a constant or impartial measure" (Levy 2);
however, this is the point: that Gulliver's perceptions change, and so do his narrations, as a
result, and through this Swift can convey his satire and social commentary. After the first
voyage, his image of humanity is little changed, likewise for the 2nd, although after this point,
Gulliver's image steadily declines until the fourth voyage, when he meets the Yahoos. In this
way, Swift presents his commentary on the human condition through Gulliver's Travels.

Jonathan Swift's Religious Beliefs

David Cody, Associate Professor of English, Hartwick College

Swift was a clergyman, a member of the Church of Ireland, the Irish branch of the Anglican
Church; and as such he was a militant defender of his church (and his own career prospects)
in the face of the threats to its continued existence posed by Roman Catholicism at home in
Ireland (which was overwhelmingly Catholic) and in England, where Swift and his peers saw
the Catholics (and, at the other religious and political extreme, the Dissenters) as threatening
not only the Anglican Church but the English Constitution.

Swift was ostensibly a conservative by nature: he instinctively sought stability in religion as

in politics, but stability which insured personal freedoms. Indeed, so far as he was concerned,
religion, morality, and politics were inseparable: he consistently attacked theological attempts
(even within Anglicanism itself) to define and limit orthodoxy--attempts which, he felt, led
ultimately to anarchic dissent. The divisive tendencies of Mankind had, he believed, over the
centuries, promoted the general decay of Christianity itself, which had lost its original clarity,
simplicity, and coherence. The Truth had been mishandled, corrupted, by men who had
behaved like Yahoos. He adhered to the tenets of the Anglican Church because he had been
brought up to respect them, because the Church of Ireland was the church of his social class,
and because his own ambitions were involved in its success, but also because he saw the
Church as a force for rationality and moderation; as occupying a perilous middle ground
between the opposing adherents of Rome and Geneva.

Underlying all of Swift's religious concerns, underlying his apparent conservatism, which was
really a form of radicalism, was his belief that in Man God had created an animal which was
not inherently rational but only capable, on occasion, of behaving reasonably: only, as he put
it, rationis capax. It is our tendency to disappoint, in this respect, that he rages against: his
works embody his attempts to maintain order and reason in a world which tended toward
chaos and disorder, and he concerned himself more with the concrete social, political, and
moral aspects of human nature than with the abstractions of philosophy, theology, and

Tristram Shandy

Published in nine volumes between 1759 and 1766, Laurence Sterne's comic meta-novel, The
Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, remains one of the most engaging

reflections on the nature of The Book. The text purports, as the title indicates, to set out the
"autobiography" of Tristram Shandy, however, the birth of the hero, which the author sets
about to discuss on the first page, does not finally occur until volume iv and he is not
breeched until volume vi. Instead the novel largely concerns itself with events and personages
from before the author's birth: his father Walter's obsession with the influence of the proper
name on a man's character, his Uncle Toby's hobby of re-enacting famous sieges, the death of
Yorick the Parson from the ill-effects of rumour--these are among the many, many little tales
the novel tells. What the story is about, however, is of secondary importance to how it is told.
Tristram Shandy is thoroughly performative, not so much a story but an extended act of and
meditation on story-telling. Sterne's narrative logic is one which favours the endless freeplay,
the infinite possibilities of writing over the exigencies of plot, the logic of cause and effect
and the desire for closure. Each time our narrator verges on a new event, or we think that we
are about to pick up the thread of a previous storyline, the text suddenly veers off on yet
another tangent. This is Shandy's logic of digression:
Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;--they are the life, the soul of reading;--
take them out of this book for instance,--you might as well take the book along with
them; [...] restore them to the writer;--he steps forth like a bridegroom,--bids All hail;
brings in variety, and forbids appetite to fail. (95)
Sterne's self-reflexive commentary is an aspect of Tristram Shandy's critique of the book as a
material object. Sterne employs a number of techniques to call attention to the materiality of
the text and undermines the apparent "naturalness" of its faux conversational tone. A cross
appears when Dr. Slop crosses himself, a black page "mourns" the death of Yorick, squiggly
graphs indicate the progress of the narrative line, blank pages appear to represent pages torn
out and a very different kind of blank page is offered to the reader for the purpose of
composing his or her own description of Widow Wadman's beauty. Moreover, supposedly
mis-placed chapters suddenly appear out of sequence--all of these are not only very funny, but
insightful critiques of the illusion of linguistic transparency offered by the traditional
readerly text. With its heterogeneous materials, non-linear narrative, regular appeals to the
reader, and self-reflexive commentary on the nature of the book, Tristram Shandy anticipates
many of the techniques of hypertext fiction. Though it achieves its effects in part because the
reader is still forced to proceed through the text page by page, from beginning to end (and
thus its frustration of linearity becomes all the more apparent), Sterne's novel remains not
only a rich resource of ideas and techniques for writers (and readers) interested in the
possibilities of the writerly text, but a perfect meeting of formal innovation and comic