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     Shandy claims to value “the utmost chastity and decorum of expression” (III.xxxviii/191).  Such “sentimental” expression prevailed in the English theater and poetry of Sterne’s time (New 6).  The ribald, Restoration-era comedy of Wycherley and Congreve had been replaced in the mid-eighteenth century by “incredibly pious young men and women, their sexual appetites effectively buried under layers of heartfelt verbiage” (6).  Sterne, as a clergyman, would have been expected to conform to this “moral” line.  Yet, despite superficial claims to propriety, Shandy’s oblique prose calls much into question.  By creating suggestive dual contexts, it pretends to resist bawdy meaning, while actually substantiating it and calling attention to its very game.  Relating his father’s “first Sunday night of every month” routine of winding “up a large house-clock . . . with his own hands,” Shandy says his father “gradually brought some other little family concernments” to the evening’s duty.  Shandy follows this modest-seeming euphemism with the news, in the next paragraph, that his mother “could never hear the said clock wound up,—but the thoughts of some other things unavoidably popp’d into her head,—–& vice versâ:——” (I.iv/9).  The reader’s imagination has been primed for the double entendre, two pages earlier, when Shandy’s mother “knew no more than her backside” her husband’s meaning in an offhand remark (I.iii/7).  And running through the novel is the motif: “which is the right and which the wrong end of a woman, is the thing to be concealed” (II.v/83; IV.xxxii/278; et al).  Italic font highlights the deliberately risque meaning.
     Rather than obscure his meaning, Shandy’s rhetorical hijinks call attention to his bawdy constructs.  Consider, in abbreviated form, the elaborate preparation for the subject of noses:
  to avoid all confusion in what will be said upon [noses], . . . it may not be amiss to explain my own meaning, and define with all possible exactness and precision. . . . In books of strict morality and close reasoning, such as this . . . depending so much as I have done, all along, upon the cleanliness of my reader’s imaginations. (III.xxxi/177-78)
Then, following “Eugenius[’s]” forefinger pointing (pointedly) at the word “Crevice, in the fifty-second page of the second volume of this book of books,” and a discussion of “two roads, . . . a dirty and a clean one,” Shandy presents a baroque, paragraph-long tautology, crowned with: “I declare, by that word I mean a Nose, and nothing more, or less” (III.xxxi/178).  This circumlocution actually does “avoid all confusion” and does “define” meaning,  firing the reader’s imagination, in the same way as, nine pages later, “a long nose . . . will do excellently well, ad excitandum focum, (to stir up the fire)” (III.xxxvii/187).  Essentially winking from behind his equivocation, Shandy knows quite well how clean his readers’ imaginations are, and he rubs their noses in the truth of the matter.7
     Moreover, Tristram purports to invert the roles of author and reader, and affects to be the victim of his reader’s imagination:
“Fair and softly, gentle reader!-----where is thy fancy carrying thee? . . . What a life of it has an author, at this pass!” (III.xxxiii/180).  And again, Mrs. Shandy, passes by the parlor door and hears the word “wife,” which “caught her by the weak part of the whole sex:——You shall not mistake me,—I mean her curiosity” (V.xii/303).
 In some instances, Sterne further emphasizes double entendre with ostentatious typography.  “The chamber-maid had left no ******* *** under the bed:——Cannot you contrive, master, quoth Susannnah, lifting up the sash . . . cannot you manage . . . to **** *** *** ******?” (V.xvii/310).  The context leaves no possible meaning other than chamber pot, for the first series of asterisks, and piss out the window for the second.  In another passage, the asterisks’ meaning seems more elliptical, and yet: “He died, said my father, as * * * * * * * * * * * * *——And if it was with his wife, said my uncle Toby–—there could be no harm in it.—–That’s more than I know—–replied my father” (V.iv/294).  Uncle Toby’s remark about “wife” and “no harm” fires the imagination, and Walter Shandy’s reply fans the flames: his singular disdain for sex makes his reply ambiguous—it could refer to either “was with his wife,” or “no harm in it.”  The ambiguity creates a focus, bringing the reader back to further examine the otherwise innocuous thirteen asterisks.  A catalogue of double entendre in Tristram Shandy would make a small book, in itself.

     7 When William Warburton, Bishop of Gloucester complains of Tristram Shandy’s indelicacy, exhorting Sterne to write appropriately, as “where priests and virgins may be present,” Sterne scorns Warburton’s concerns (Curtis 119).  Sterne probably would have included Warburton in the novel, as a comic foil, except for ‘friendly persuasion’ by third parties (New 120).

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