Tristram Shandy

1.  Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is a very interesting book, in that the reader assumes the book will be about Tristram Shandy’s life; however, Sterne often digresses into short stories about the lives of other people, such as his father Walter and his uncle Toby, so the book isn’t really about the life of Tristram Shandy.  Sterne’s book is also characterized by his use of language and his nonlinear storytelling, and the book is centered around religious beliefs.  The novel is actually about writing a novel, and in doing so Sterne creates a very unique book for his time by adding aspects such as the black page and publishing it in installments rather than one novel.

2.  Michael Winterbottom’s film, Tristram Shandy:  A Cock and Bull Story, is a film within a film within a film.  There are only a few scenes within the film that are directly taken from Sterne’s book, and the majority of the film focuses on the filmmaking process and the individual lives of some of the actors-mainly Steve Coogan who plays both Tristram and his father Walter.  The film is disjointed and can be difficult to follow at times because it is constantly jumping from the filmmaking to scenes about the lives of different actors.  The film does show some of the more important scenes from Sterne’s book, including Walter’s clock-winding, the naming of Tristram, and his uncle Toby’s accident in the war.  The film is a critique of the filmmaking process, including the difficulties of filming certain scenes and funding, and is also a critique of accurately adapting a book into a film.

3.  Winterbottom’s film adaptation is not a true adaptation, in that the majority of the movie is not about Sterne’s book at all, but rather about the filmmaking process and the actors’ lives.  However, the film does accurately capture the spirit of Sterne’s novel.  Winterbottom creates a film about making a film, just as Sterne writes a book about writing a book .  The film’s scenes are also nonlinear and digressive, just as Sterne’s book is.  Therefore, although the film is not an accurate adaptation, Winterbottom does manage to show many of the key parts of the novel, and he manages to capture the spirit of the film; it would be impossible to accurately create a film adaptation for Sterne’s novel because of his many disjointed and digressive stories.


A.  Movie Mom Blog about Tristram Shandy:  A Cock and Bull Story

This blog writer details the main ideas found in the movie, compares them to the novel, and then gives advice to parents about whether their children should see the film-rating it based on sex, drug and alcohol use, violence, and profanity.

B.  Tristram Shandy Twitter Account!/TShandyEsq

This is a twitter account made in the name of Tristram Shandy, with the subtitle, “digressions within digressions,” and each of the tweets are short-often incomplete sentence-excerpts from the Sterne’s novel.

C.  Tristram Shandy in a Nutshell Youtube Video

This is 1 minute and 17 second youtube video, where a man tries to explain the main themes of the novel in a slightly humorous way.  He explains Tristram Shandy’s problems in life, including the problem with his conception, his broken nose during birth, his naming, and his circumcision by the falling window.  He also points out the religious humor in the novel by noting, “insert strange joke or sermon.”


5.  After seeing Michael Winterbottom’s film version, would you agree that Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is unfilmable? Does Winterbottom’s film capture the essence of the book, or not?

After seeing Winterbottom’s film I feel that he filmed the book in the only way possible.  It would not be feasible to do an entire movie based strictly on direct scenes from the book, because the book is based so much on language and there are so many small digressive stories within the larger book that would make it extremely difficult to film in any other way.  I feel that although Winterbottom only showed certain scenes from the book, he managed to capture the feel of the book in an extremely accurate way.  In setting the film up as a movie within a movie, along with the odd timeline and small stories within the larger movie, he has effectively captured the spirit of Sterne’s book.  Therefore, I do feel that the book would be unfilmable in any way other than how Winterbottom did so; although his film is not an accurate adaptation, he did include many key stories, and he did effectively capture the spirit of Sterne’s book.


2 thoughts on “Tristram Shandy

  1. jfricke4 says:

    I definitely agree that it would be impossible to accurately create a film adaptation for Sterne’s novel because of the complexity and length of the text. So much of Sterne’s text is disjointed – with time displacements, long paragraphs in Latin, and other linguistic devices that make it difficult to get through. I also agree that Winterbottom is able to capture the spirit of the time, with the way he displaces time, depicts Tristram (avoids talking about himself even though it’s supposed to be his biography), and writing smaller stories within a larger story.

  2. lordbyrne says:

    All this looks good, in terms of the assignment. 10/10. Joseph Byrne.

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