Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Brett Wilson

Committee Members

Adam Potkay

Keith Johnson

Giulia Pacini


This thesis employs the later philosophy of Michel Foucault to think through the unique set of socio-cultural problems that emerged alongside the early novel. I endeavor to explain the development of “biopower” and the concomitant (yet historically grounded) concept of a mass population in order to round off a nettlesome tendency among historicist rise-of-the-novel critics to focus on the creation of a bourgeois individual at this time. To that end, the texts of Anglo-Irish author Laurence Sterne bear out a unique narratorial response to biopower that begins with the ‘body’ of his work: i.e., Shandeism. Signaling the importance of the body through complex philosophical and material engagements with birth, life, and death throughout the eighteenth century, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-1767) responds to biopolitical institutions that exert power over the eponymous narrator. The family unit and obstetrics figure as important correlates of a power that takes hold of Tristram’s life, and so the text’s joy. In particular, I ask how the novel’s notorious digressions are in fact a serious tactic employed against what Sterne sees as the deleterious consequences of a biopolitical society. We are left with a solemn reflection on how best to resist a government that regulates bodies and does not truly care for them. Sterne’s answer? Laugh a lot.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.