Class Year


Document Type

Student Research Paper

Date of Creation

Spring 2016

Department 1



Many critics of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy see the novel’s narrative elements and structure as a form of narrative play, which reject Enlightenment systems of understanding. In this paper, through the philosophy of Friedrich Schiller, I will argue that the novel’s narrative structure is best understood as a balance of aesthetic impulses. For most scholars, to understand the narrative form, digressions, philosophy of knowledge, and/or history in Tristram Shandy, one must understand how the novel subverts the categorization and systematization of Enlightenment thinking. The patterns of subversion in the text lend themselves to arguments that characterize the novel as one of narrative play. This is understandable, but it ultimately does not do justice to the complexity of the novel. To address this complexity, I turn to Friedrich Schiller, a German poet and philosopher. I argue that the text enacts Schiller’s aesthetic framework by synthesizing the competing impulses he describes in his aesthetic philosophy. Tristram Shandy does not seek the order and systems of Locke and the Enlightenment, nor the overwhelming feeling of the Romantics’ sublimity; instead, Tristram Shandy, setting a precedent for Schiller’s philosophy, seeks the most beautiful aesthetic goal, balance.


Written as a Senior Thesis in the English Department.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.