Clock-ridden Births: Creative Bastardy in Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children

in Refracting the Canon in Contemporary British Literature and Film
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This paper analyses the way in which Salman Rushdie, in his 1981 novel Midnight’s Children, refracted Laurence Sterne’s canonical work, Tristram Shandy. More particularly, it focuses on Rushdie’s use of the motif of illegitimacy. The fact that his narrator and hero is an illegitimate child provides him with a metaphor for the hybridity of his hero’s identity, both as individual and as image for the newly independent Indian nation. This paper argues that Sterne also dropped hints concerning the possible bastardy of Tristram Shandy, linking this closely to his own metafictional comments on the digressive and hybrid nature of his narrative techniques. Such a reading also sheds new light on Sterne’s treatment of female characters, traditionally overlooked and underrated by critics (feminist critics excepted). Undeniably, the refraction of Tritram Shandy through Midnight’s Children does shed new light on Sterne’s classic.

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