Tristram Shandy By Laurence Sterne Summary and Analysis Book 8: Chapters 18-25

Summary

Trim informs Toby that "the fortifications are quite destroyed." Toby, "with a sigh half suppress'd," would like to confirm the details in the official "stipulation"; since he has put the action off for six weeks, the old charwoman finally burned the newspaper containing the stipulation. Trim is about to carry off his tools, but Toby's sighs stop him; he therefore plans to do it "before his honour rises to-morrow morning," to save him the pain of seeing it all come to an end.

To cheer up his master, Trim begins to tell him a story: The King of Bohemia and His Seven Castles. Before he can get started, however, Toby compliments and praises Trim for his good nature and character. Trim removes his hat and bows — although he is sitting down — and in so doing, he loses his grip on his hat. The hat lies on the ground just out of reach.

Trim begins his story: "There was a certain king of Bo - - he — " Toby interrupts to invite him to put on his hat again. They discuss the tarnish on the embroidery, and Trim is moved at the thought of his brother Tom, who had sent it to him from Portugal. Trim begins again: "There was a certain king of Bohemia, but in whose reign, except his own, I am not able to inform your honour — " "I do not desire it of thee, Trim, by any means, cried my uncle Toby." The next stop is caused by the date: "In the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twelve, there was, an' please your honour — " " — To tell thee truly, Trim, quoth my uncle Toby, any other date would have pleased me much better." Trim's nerves begin to get slightly raw; when Toby recommends that he use a different date "if ever thou tellest it again — ," Trim replies: " — If I live, an' please your honour, but once to get through it, I will never tell it again . . . either to man, woman, or child." Military matters arise in the discussion of the difference geography and chronology; from there they proceed to the justification for Bohemia's not having a seaport ("being totally inland") and then to predestination. Trim mentions that he was once in love, his destiny having arranged for him to be wounded in the knee first. They argue inconclusively about whether a wound is more painful in the knee or in the groin, and Mrs. Wadman, sitting in her garden on the other side of the hedge, "instantly stopp'd her breath — unpinn'd her mob at the chin, and stood up upon one leg."

Trim tells about the incident: he was being transported by cart with other wounded men; arriving at a peasant's house, he felt that he could not go farther. A kind young woman persuades them to leave Trim at the house, with the consent of the owner, and she undertakes to nurse him and see to all his needs. "By thy description, Trim, said my uncle Toby, I dare say she was a young Beguine" — one of those nuns who "visit and take care of the sick by profession — I had rather, for my own part, they did it out of good-nature." She took care of Trim for several weeks, and he grew very fond of her: "my heart sickened, and I lost colour when she left the room," and yet, for a reason given in asterisks (and overheard by Mrs. Wadman), Trim is sure that "it was not love."

One Sunday afternoon, however, when the old peasant and his wife went out for a walk, Trim did fall in love. His wound was doing well, but "it was succeeded with an itching both above and below my knee." The "fair Beguine" said, "It wants rubbing a little," and she rubbed and rubbed. "I perceived, then, I was beginning to be in love," says Trim, and after a while, "my passion rose to the highest pitch — I seiz'd her hand — " " — And then, thou clapped'st it to thy lips, Trim, said my uncle Toby — and madest a speech." Tristram points out that "whether the corporal's amour terminated precisely in the way my uncle Toby described it, is not material."

Mrs. Wadman appears at that moment: "the disposition which Trim had made in my uncle Toby's mind, was too favourable a crisis to be let slipp'd." "I am half distracted, Captain Shandy, said Mrs. Wadman, holding up her cambrick handkerchief to her left eye, as she approach'd the door of my uncle Toby's sentry-box — a mote — or sand — or something — I know not what, has got into this eye of mine — do look into it." She "edged herself close in beside" him, and "squeezing herself down upon the corner of his bench," she says again, "Do look into it." He looks, but her "left eye shines this moment as lucid as her right." Tristram sends a warning into the past: "There is nothing, my dear paternal uncle! but one lambent delicious fire, furtively shooting out from every part of it, in all directions, into thine — — If thou lookest, uncle Toby, in search of this mote one moment longer — thou art undone."

The eye is a beautiful one, and Tristram compares it with other eyes. Among other things, this eye says, "'How can you live comfortless, captain Shandy, and alone, without a bosom to lean your head on — or trust your cares to?'" Tristram fears that if he continues, he will fall in love with it himself. At any rate, this eye "did my uncle Toby's business."

Analysis

In Book 6, Chapter 34, Toby and Trim are about to destroy Dunkirk and finish off their fortifications. After that is done, Tristram will arrange for Toby to fall in love. But between that point and this, Tristram has inserted the story of his travels in France, the early years of the war games, and the growing but frustrated passion of the Widow Wadman for Toby. Now, at long last, the fortifications are leveled, and the real love scene can begin.

The story of the King of Bohemia and His Seven Castles, which ultimately provides the occasion for Mrs. Wadman to hypnotize Uncle Toby, is a very funny story — that is, the story about the story, since we never learn the end of the story itself. In these scenes between Trim and Uncle Toby, we have another outstanding characteristic of the Shandy Heritage: nothing ever gets finished. Tristram obviously inherits part of his nature from Uncle Toby as well as from his father. Toby is part of the Shandy complex, as we see from the way he manages to interrupt, digress from, and generally interfere with the progress of the tale. Later, he recalls the event: "Bohemia! said my uncle Toby — — musing a long time — -What became of that story, Trim?" " — We lost it, an' please your honour, somehow betwixt us." Tristram never finishes the story for us (possibly because he doesn't know the ending).

The tale of the "fair Beguine" shows us Trim in "love"; it also shows us the undeviating ingenuousness of Uncle Toby, who puts his own ending to Trim's story, a very romantic and highly improbable conclusion to what Trim was saying. Both Tristram and the eavesdropping Mrs. Wadman suspect that that wasn't what Trim was going to say.

Mrs. Wadman, that combination of Eve and the Serpent, appears with her troubled and troubling eye. The exposé of woman's wiles is again as subtle and as captivating as the previous scene in the sentry box, when fingers were the agents of flirtation (Chapter 16). The eloquence of Mrs. Wadman's eye — translated into English for us by Tristram — is irresistible; even Uncle Toby knows that that was when he was first smitten: "'Twas just whilst thou went'st off with the wheel-barrow," he tells Trim later (Chapter 28).

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