J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tristam Shandy in Its Time and In Our Time

B.B.C. Radio’s In Our Time podcast (one of my favorites) tackled Laurence Sterne’s landmark novel Tristram Shandy this spring. The book was a popular sensation after it started to appear in 1759 and still feels far ahead of its time.

Among the novel’s fans in America was Nathanael Greene. He made allusions to the book in his letters, and he imitated characters. According to Greene’s grandson and biographer:
his brothers, to the day of their death, could never mention Tristram Shandy without dilating upon the exquisite comicality of his impersonation of Dr. Slop.
In July 1775, Greene became a brigadier general in the Continental Army assigned to serve under Gen. Charles Lee. Lee was not only the most respected military professional in the Continental Army, but he was also a good friend of Sterne. The two men had even published verse together. Imagine Greene’s feelings about getting a new boss like that.

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