Tristram Shandy

Obstetric and Narrative Delays in Tristram Shandy College

Laurence Sterne’s novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is heavily saturated with elements of satire and dark humor. Sterne proposes an argument, through the inclusion of the ‘male’ mid-wife, Dr. Slop, for the restoration of natural delivery methods of infants. His hectic dialogue and digressive nature underline Dr. Slop’s failures as a medical figure, ultimately commenting on the misplacement of female midwifery in the English household. The novel is seemingly asking to “take care that the poor woman not be lost in the mean time; --because when she is wanted, we can no way do without her”(Sterne 78). The female midwife that Elizabeth Shandy requests represents what the novel calls simply ‘the sisterhood’: the shunned midwives of England who witnessed their unquestioned authority over childbirth reversed in the face of political inclination in favor of the instrument-wielding man-midwife. Within Sterne’s clearly satirical and deflective relationship to this debate, certain preferences are evident: the female mid-wife receives markedly tender treatment at his hands, while Dr. Slop is an unrelenting idiot of the forceps practitioner. But these two methods of readily exclusion and readerly welcome have one...

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