“Thank God, I never had to read this book in my student days. But another which comes close to this for a torturous reading experience is William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, which was part of my M.A. syllabus.
There are many pieces that evoke mirth such as the accidental circumcision of the author at the window, but she chose to select the passage about auxiliary verbs – perhaps impelled by her avocation as an English teacher, Joe said, and extracted the maximum comedy. One can imagine Sterne as a child :
Sterne's take on religion was the subject of the next reading. The question was asked ,”Why is the doctor's name 'Slop'?” At the end of the reading Joe wondered if it was a reflection on military duties that after the man's brain was half shot off Corporal Trim claims: “he did his duty very well without it.” Thommo confirmed the vacancy upstairs among many military officers in the days when commissions were bought with money, not by qualifying in a military academy which imposed serious selection criteria. This is was commented upon by Thommo. Take the Crimean War and the Charge of the Light Brigade, which took place in the wrong direction owing to miscommunication by a junior officer in communicating the commanding officer's instructions down the line. Perhaps the officers were short of grey matter (or their grey matter may have been 'shot', as in the case narrated by Corporal Trim). The Light Brigade charged down a valley into a line of the trained, menacing Russian guns, instead of charging up an incline at guns that were being dismantled by the Russians.
Joe read the story of a ride by two nuns who were going in a mule cart to a spa to be cured of a health problem. Their muleteer abandons them to have a tipple, and the mules walk off with the nuns in the cart ('calesh') and finally halt near a lonely bog where the nuns start fearing for their lives at the hands of brigands. The problem is how to get the mules moving again and two words that will do the trick are are bouger (bugger) and fouter (fucker), says the younger nun, Margarita.
Gopa was not sure in the end if Tristram was finally born or not! His father was afraid of losing his son, and then there is a discourse on the nose as the determinant of a man's fortunes. “I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me,” exclaims Tristram in frustration at the singular events attending his birthing. By sheer accident he got circumcised! The falling window could have hurt his son badly, but only ended up circumcising him with a sharp clip of its edge. But the father in his eccentricity is not concerned with the son's well-being, but busies himself in the library with whether it was done according to the law, bringing out the authority on the subject, namely Spenser's volume de Legibus Hebraeorum Ritualibus. What concerns Walter is who among the “Jews, the Egyptians,—the Syrians,—the Phoenicians,—the Arabians,—the Cappadocians,—if the Colchi, and Troglodytes” did it first. The humour of the situation is abundant and the readers had a good laugh. Priya exclaimed, “With a father like that what do you expect of the son?”
Priya read from two short sections at the beginning of the book. The first one is prefaced by this curious statement from the author to readers: “and if it was not necessary I should be born before I was christened, I would this moment give the reader an account of it.” It is a technique to defer a narrative that will be taken up at a later time, while digressing for the present into something that beckons to the author as more urgent material right now. Cunning as the device is, the author, does recall all his promises of future explication, but there are a few he cannot keep in spite of the tremendous sprawl of the book. The book was written in fascicles (nine in all) over several years, and enjoyed a great success; translations into French promptly gained Stern renown on the Continent also.
1st Reading – Chapter 3.XLIII.
Book 7 Ch 21 top of p.351 or Ch 4.II – How the nuns managed to say two naughty words
Reading 1 – Chapter 3.XXVI.
Reading 1 – Chapter 1.XX.