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Faculty Mentors

Robert 0. Viau

Abstract

In a letter dated June 1764, Laurence Sterne wrote to Elizabeth Montagu, "I am going down to write a world of Nonsense" (467). He was referring, of course, to Tristram Shandy, a popular sensation from the time the first two volumes appeared four years earlier. Despite Samuel Johnson's prediction that "nothing odd will do long" (qtd. in Sterne 484), Sterne's masterpiece has maintained its prominence, appearing in our own time as the most modem of the eighteenth-century novels. In this essay, I am concerned with Sterne's use of asterisks and blank pages-literary devices leaving gaps in the text-to engage the reader of the novel. Just as Kate Chopin's The Awakening cannot reasonably be isolated from the feminist viewpoint, the reader's thoughts and responses cannot be left out of Tristram Shandy. Several examples of how Sterne requires the reader to interact with the text will illuminate my point.

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