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Tristram Shandy signed by Sterne

STERNE, LAURENCE. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy

York and London, 1760-1767

Nine volumes in five. Contemporary calf, morocco labels. Front free endpaper of vol. I detached, light touchups to spine of vol. I, light wear to joints. A fine set.

An excellent copy of Tristram Shandy, one of the most innovative and ambitious works in English literature, from the library of Col. Ralph Isham, discoverer of the Boswell Papers.

First edition. Signed by Sterne as usual in volumes 5, 7, and 9 to protect the book from piracy. After the first two volumes were rejected by Dodsley, the leading publisher of literature in London, Sterne revised them and had them published in York. The remaining volumes were published in London to great acclaim, though Johnson, Richardson, and Goldsmith expressed reservations on artistic and moral grounds. Johnson commented, “Nothing odd will do long. Tristram Shandy will not last.”

“Sterne’s first genuine experiment in literature brought him in an instant a worldwide reputation” (DNB). This classic of English literature is one of the most innovative novels in the language and the progenitor of the “stream-of-consciousness” genre. The word “shandy,” meaning “half-crazy,” is fitting in this madcap, digressive novel, one of the strangest ever published. The famously inventive novel is also noteworthy for its fanciful typography and book design, such as the marbled paper leaf inserted at vol. 3, page 169, the blank page for the reader’s imagined portrait of the widow Wadman (vol. 6, page 147), and the black page in the Alas, Poor Yorick! section (vol. 1, pp. 73-74).

Because of its episodic nature, fine sets of first editions of Tristram Shandy are rare in the market. This is an especially splendid example.

Provenance: bookplates of R. H. Isham, Lionel Damer, and Hobart F. Cole. Ralph H. Isham famously acquired the unpublished James Boswell papers from Malahide Castle, one of the greatest literary discoveries of the 20th century.

$27,500