Tristram Shandy By Laurence Sterne Summary and Analysis Book 9: Chapters 27-33

Summary

Corporal Trim carries the map away to the kitchen, and he proceeds to demonstrate the matter to Bridget. Miss Bridget, aware of her obligation to learn the truth, tries by telling Trim that she knows for a fact, "from credible witnesses," that Uncle Toby's accident had ********* him completely. Trim swears that "'tis a story . . . as false as hell."

He woos Bridget successfully, and then he asks "whose suspicion misled thee?" She breaks down and "she then open'd her heart and told him all."

The campaign goes on each afternoon, neither master nor servant communicating anything to the other. Toby "had nothing to communicate," Trim "had much to communicate." One evening, Toby was "counting over to himself upon his finger ends . . . all Mrs. Wadman's perfections one by one." Getting confused in his calculations, he orders Trim to write them down as he dictates them. Of all her "thousand virtues," the one "which wins me most . . . is the compassionate turn and singular humanity of her character." Even if he were her brother, "she could not make more constant or more tender enquiries after my sufferings — though now no more." Trim, after a short cough, dutifully writes at the very top of the sheet "HUMANITY."

In order to point out the difference between the well-born lady and the maidservant, Toby asks Trim how often Bridget inquires about the wound on his knee. Trim answers that she never asks about it. Toby's triumph leads Trim to explain that if Toby's knee had been involved, "Mrs. Wadman would have troubled her head as little about it as Bridget"; the reason is that "'the knee is such a distance from the main body — whereas the groin, your honour knows, is upon the very curtin of the place.'" Uncle Toby gives a long whistle — "but in a note which could scarce be heard across the table." Trim "had advanced too far to retire — in three words he told the rest — ." Uncle Toby lays down his pipe very gently: " — Let us go to my brother Shandy's, said he."

Gossip and rumor have been at work, Tristram says as Toby and Trim march across to the Shandy household, and everyone for five miles around knew of the "difficulties of my uncle Toby's siege, and what were the secret articles which had delay'd the surrender." Walter has just that minute found out about it, and he is furious "at the trespass done his brother by it." He insists that "the devil was in women, and that the whole of the affair was lust," and further, that "every evil and disorder in the world . . . was owing one way or other to the same unruly appetite."

Uncle Toby enters the room, "with marks of infinite benevolence and forgiveness in his looks," and Walter begins afresh in his diatribe against lust. He doesn't understand why "a race of so great, so exalted and godlike a Being as man" should depend for its continuance on sexual passion, which "couples and equals wise men with fools." Some say that "like hunger, or thirst, or sleep — 'tis an affair neither good or bad — or shameful or otherwise." Yet what is the reason that "no language, translation, or periphrasis whatever" can be used to describe "the parts thereof . . . and whatever serves thereto" to a "cleanly mind"?

On the other hand, in ironic contrast, "the act of killing and destroying a man . . . is glorious — and the weapons by which we do it are honourable — We march with them upon our shoulders." Toby and Yorick are about to interrupt when "Obadiah broke into the middle of the room with a complaint, which cried out for an immediate hearing."

As the squire, Walter was obliged to keep a bull "for the service of the Parish." Obadiah had taken his cow to the bull on the same day that he himself got married, "so one was a reckoning to the other." When Obadiah's wife gave birth, Obadiah expected a calf daily (pregnancy in humans and cows being of equal duration). Six weeks more went by, and "Obadiah's suspicions (like a good man's) fell upon the Bull." He tells Walter that "most of the townsmen, an' please your worship, . . . believe that 'tis all the Bull's fault." Dr. Slop confirms the fact that a cow is never barren, but he thinks of the possibility that Obadiah's wife might have borne prematurely.

He asks whether the child has hair on his head, and when Obadiah says, "It is as hairy as I am . . . Obadiah had not been shaved for three weeks," Walter gives a great whistle of relief at the narrow escape of his bull's reputation.

Analysis

What Mrs. Wadman failed to learn from Toby, Bridget gets from Trim. The seductress is seduced, and the bawdy maneuvers are suggestively described by partial sentences and lots of asterisks. Poor Bridget learns that the wound did not after all ******** Toby, but in the process she confesses to Trim that her mistress has been extremely worried about the possibility.

Bridget obviously communicates to Mrs. Wadman the good news, what she learned from Trim, and Toby's courtship progresses satisfactorily. Everything would have worked out except for the most improbable circumstance of Toby's falling victim to a tiny sin of pride: Mrs. Wadman's great solicitousness about his groin wound and Bridget's complete apathy about Trim's knee wound demonstrate the difference between a lady and a servant. Trim explains, and Toby's pride goeth. Trim is not a long-suffering person; neither will he suffer in silence. We may assume that if he did not cherish the state of bachelorhood in which he and his master have lived happily and militarily, he would have resisted the great temptation to disenchant him. But that would be a different story.

Does Toby mind very much? We don't really know, although we do know that it was a shock. On the night of Tristram's birth, we are told about it; in "real" time, it will be told on November 5, 1718, five years after this particular evening in which Toby goes to Walter's house, but in the novel it has already been told us in Book 2, Chapter 7: "I know nothing at all about them [women], — replied my uncle Toby; and I think . . . that the shock I received the year after the demolition of Dunkirk, in my affair with widow Wadman; — which shock you know I should not have received, but from my total ignorance of the sex, has given me just cause to say, That I neither know, nor do pretend to know, any thing about 'em, or their concerns either." From this we know two things: the book ends about five years before Tristram is born, and Toby's affair with Widow Wadman came to a definite end.

Toby has done his duty in this business of love: he looked into the eye and was enchanted, his blister burst and he believed he was in love, he declared it honorably and offered his hand in marriage. Whatever his love was, it was different from Mrs. Wadman's; the realization of this difference scared him off forever. If we remember him in front of Mrs. Wadman's house, we won't cherish for too long the vision of his disappointment.

At the Shandy household, the usual turbulent rhetoric is underway. Fortuitously — but plausibly — Walter has just heard the rumor about Mrs. Wadman's doubts of his brother's potency, and the topic of his harangue is The Lustfulness of Women. In spite of the bombast of Walter's anti-sexual position, there is some kind of grandeur in his speech and in his logic: on the one hand, man is "exalted and godlike," and on the other hand, the sexual act that perpetuates him is something that the "cleanly mind" cannot in any way speak about. Although Toby and Yorick are about to refute him, the contrast that he makes has its own kind of validity: killing and warfare are not shameful, and the "cleanly mind" does not hesitate to speak of the weapons and tools of destruction.

The final interruption is one of the best jokes of the book as well as one of the hardest to understand. Obadiah got married and took his cow to be bred on the same day; his wife bore, but his cow didn't. Like a good defense attorney; Walter tries to refute the charge that his bull is sterile, and in the hairiness of Obadiah's child, he finds his answer. Obadiah made a mistake and took his wife to the bull. He means that, although he doesn't say so; therefore Mrs. Shandy is puzzled. She asks, "What is all this story [which story?] about?" It is a Cock and Bull story, Yorick reassures her.

This is actually the second time that Walter accuses Obadiah of such a mistake: in Book 5, Chapter 3, Obadiah disclaimed any responsibility for the favorite mare's producing a mule. "See here! you rascal, cried my father, pointing to the mule, what you have done! — It was not me, said Obadiah. — How do I know that? replied my father."

So the "choicest morsel" has been told, the grandeur and the littleness of man have been argued about, and the similarity between man and beast has been presented in a parable masquerading as a joke. There is nothing else to do except to ask, like Mrs. Shandy, What is this story all about? It is a Cock and Bull story, and a cock-and-bull story, and various other kinds of story — and it is one of the best of its kind ever heard.

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