Laurence Sterne (1713-1768), The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman The marbled pages

London: R. and J. Dodsley, 1761

Tristram delights in the fact that his narrative is unpredictable and distinctive: he visually ‘describes’ this using two marbled pages inserted part-way through volume 3. In the novel’s original publication each marbled page would have been done by hand, making it entirely unique – a fitting complement to Tristram’s claim that his ‘book of books’ was utterly unlike anything that had come before. In turning over the leaves the reader cannot help but see and feel how far Sterne turns expectations of both the reading experience and the material book inside-out as he brings the volume’s end-papers within its leaves. With the blank page inserted in volume 6 Tristram invites his reader to bring in other materials altogether, those drawn from the imagination. Because the beauty of Widow Wadman (love interest of Tristram’s beloved Uncle Toby) is indescribable, the reader must ‘paint’ her for himself – ‘as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you—’.
CCD.5.62, p. 170

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