Laurence Sterne and William Hogarth in Parallel
by S. Piazza, I. Grassi and I. Mastroianni 







Tristram Shandy (1760-1767) is an unfinished, unusual and bizarre work, written in the period when the modern novel was beginning to develop and narrative structures still appeared in an experimental phase. Sterne dealt with the absurdities and contradictions of human beings levelling a pointed charge against the conventions of his time. Reality proceeds according to associations of ideas, using digressions and overturning both chronological and cause/effect consistency. At the end of the novel the thematic changes radically anticipating the inner argument of the Sentimental Journey. About the life and opinions of the hero the reader really finds few indications, because the work is unfinished: Tristram, born halfway through the novel, in the last section has just reached his youth. The novel lacks a proper plot, while it abounds in pathetic or comic personages. There are infinite digressions on any and everything and typographical "freaks": white pages, erasures, a whole chapter made up only of interjections, and other bizarre things.

William Hogarth (1697-1764), the artist now chiefly remembered for his satiric engravings, was commissioned to design two plates to be used as frontispieces in two of the volumes. One depicts Corporal Trim reading a sermon on conscience to the sleeping Dr Slop, Uncle Toby, and Walter Shandy, and the other, the baptism of Tristram. Based on a vivid appreciation of contemporary life, these engravings capture the elusive humour of Sterne perfectly. The Analysis of Beauty is one of the most important writings on art in the Eighteenth century; it proposes a highly original and dynamic view of beauty that complements the lively modernity of the artist's paintings and engravings, particularly such modern moral subject cycles as "The Harlot's Progress" (1733) and "The Rake's Progress" (1735). His image of beauty as a serpentine line, gracefully moving and ever changing, had a profound effect on the developing Picturesque Movement of the period.