Article ID: CBB997612171

Anatomy, the Brain, and Memory in Tristram Shandy: A Forensic Examination of Sterne's Narrative Structure (2017)


This paper offers a new explanation for the long-disputed narrative structure of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, making use of contemporary medical theories about the brain and memory reconstruction. Employing sources that were likely known to Sterne, this paper argues that the novel's narrator, infamous for his inability to tell a story in a straight line, clearly displays symptoms associated with brain damage in Sterne's day. Additionally, this paper argues that Sterne's knowledge of contemporary theories of the brain impacted the way that he arranged his narrative. Finally, I contend that Sterne was experimenting with narrative techniques, which he rooted in pathological causes—a first in the history of the novel—giving scholars good reason to reconsider traditionally accepted explanations of its structure.

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Authors & Contributors
Besser, Stephan
Cooper, Leon N.
Duncan, Ian
Engberg-Pedersen, Anders
Guida, Alessandro
Keiser, Jess
Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Journal of Medical Biography
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Journal of the History of the Neurosciences
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Cambridge University Press
Tufts University
Edizioni dell'Orso
Palgrave Macmillan
Princeton University Press
University of Virginia Press
Science and literature
Literary analysis
Sterne, Lawrence
Arbuthnot, John
Bacon, Francis, 1st Baron Verulam
Broca, Paul
Cavendish, Margaret, Duchess of Newcastle
Charcot, Jean Martin
Time Periods
18th century
19th century
17th century
14th century
15th century
16th century
Great Britain
Bologna (Italy)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
Montreal Neurological Institute
International Brain Research Organization
Society for Neuroscience
University of Cambridge (UK)
University of Cambridge (United Kingdom)

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