At present, nothing is talked of, nothing admired, but what I cannot help calling a very insipid and tedious performance: it is a kind of novel, called The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy; the great humour of which consists in the whole narration always going backwards.

Horace Walpole, 1760

 

Generally considered to be the first stream of consciousness novel, Tristram Shandy is a tour de force of comic philosophizing. The book purports to be an autobiography of the fictional Shandy beginning with his conception, but because it never gets beyond his third year, the reader is left mainly with his opinions. The first two volumes were published in 1760 with subsequent volumes appearing in 1761, 1762, 1765, and 1767.

Sterne was quite consciously inventing a new style of “writing to the moment,” placing importance on the thoughts that would pass through the mind of a character at a particular point in time. The book made Sterne a popular figure in chic London society, but the full impact of its literary importance did not become apparent until the twentieth century with the stream-of-consciousness experimentation undertaken by James Joyce and his successors.

The book has never been out of print, and fine press editions of it have been made by the Golden Cockerel Press (1929), illustrated by J.E. Laboureur, and by the Limited Editions Club (1935), illustrated by T.M. Cleland. Brentano’s issued an illustrated limited edition in 1926.

This edition by the Arion Press, designed and produced by Andrew Hoyem, preserved the typeface and the intentional typographical irregularities of the first edition, including unexplained dots, dashes, asterisks, one-sentence chapters, blank pages, black pages, and unfinished sentences. This edition has all nine volumes bound into one by the Schubert Bookbindery in half morocco and marbled boards. The type face is Caslon Old Style printed on Curtis Ruysdael paper.

In a second volume John Baldessari has supplied photo-collages inspired by quotations from the book. Baldessari’s work has all the attributes associated with him, viz., blotted out faces and photographic images cut apart and reassembled in unique ways. They are contained in a large accordion-fold volume printed on Curtis Brightwater Cover paper with photolithographic work done by Phelps-Schaefer and signed by Baldessari.

A third volume contains an essay about Sterne and the book by Melvyn New who also served as a technical advisor on the project. This essay is case bound with stiff paper boards in a separate volume.

The entire three-volume set is contained in a slipcase and is limited to 400 copies.

 

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