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Non enim excursus hic ejus, sed opus ipsum est. ("For this is not a digression from it, but the work itself.")
—Epigraph to volumes VII and VIII, taken from the Letters of Pliny the Younger

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a novel written by Laurence Sterne in the 18th century. It's famous for being essentially Post Modern before its time -- heck, before the modern style was at all common. It employs non-linear narrative and makes liberal use of stream of consciousness; the narrator gets sidetracked all the time and Lampshades just about everything. The humour is very meta; a large portion of the book explores the process of writing that very book.

It is widely considered unfilmable because of its meta nature. It was adapted into A Cock and Bull Story, with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, which changes it to a film exploring the process of making that film.


Tropes featured include:

  • Artistic License Logic: A number of rhetorical fallacies are repeatedly discussed, and their use Lampshaded by the narrator. The book also invents several new Latin terms for fallacious arguments, such as the Argumentum Fistulatorum (argument of a pipe player -- that is, by whistling).
  • Groin Attack: Phutatorius accidentally drops a chestnut into his open fly, and Hilarity Ensues.
  • How We Got Here: Does everything with this trope possible. Shandy keeps cutting off his stories and restarting them, bringing up new ones--though many of his conventional digressions follow this trope strictly, he'll also open with the death of a character (who will only return volumes later!), and end his book long before it opens. That Tristram is a strange one.
  • Lemony Narrator: The Trope Maker. Tristram's narration is notoriously non-linear, full of extraneous detail, and what he finally conveys to the reader is a "cock-and-bull story".
  • Narrative Filigree: Arguably the entire book consists of nothing but this.
  • One Paragraph Chapter: A few examples; the book is in nine volumes of twenty or so chapters each, all of which fit, in a modern edition, into five hundred pages or so, so it'd be pretty surprising if there weren't any.
  • Prolonged Prologue: Thanks to the Narrative Filigree, Tristram is finally actually born on page 92.
  • Silly Reason for War: There's a chapter-long aside about a war between France and Switzerland which starts because the Swiss want the French Dauphin to be christened Shadrach, Mesech, and Abednago.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: The book has an entire chapter devoted to denying that its extensive discussion of noses is in any way a Double Entendre. Since it has a later chapter about a traveler with an incredibly long nose that sends everyone into a tizzy (especially the nuns), this is rather difficult to believe.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The books is one of the first modern novels in the English language. However, it's incredibly self-aware and openly discusses, lampshades, and subverts tropes associated with the nascent genre and the art of writing itself. Very often, it is regarded as a postmodern work avant la lettre.
  • Unconventional Formatting
  • Un Installment: Chapter 24 of volume 4.
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?: Some of the narration tends in this direction, such as the end-chapter revelation that, while bringing Dr. Slop his obstetric tools on horseback, Obadiah cannot hear himself whistle!
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