The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 11, No 4 (2023)

The humorous body: a Bergsonian reading of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

Neha Khurana


This paper is a commentary upon the mingling of the affective and discursive varieties of humour in the eighteenth century based on the observation that the body and bodily processes are at the core of humour in Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. The author notes in this novel a curious coming together of the various conceptions of the functioning of the human body prevalent at that time and linguistic slippages. Linguistic quips aid in a slippery transition between the various conceptions of the body and discursive linguistic aspects, thus creating humour. Linguistic slips of this kind seem to be inspired by John Locke’s philosophy popular at the time, while an analysis using Henri Bergson’s essay on the comic is carried out to look at the mechanism in which humour is produced through the body in the novel as the iatromechanistic and humoral models of the body lend themselves to be seen as comic in the Bergsonian sense.


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