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Sterne and Sterneana : The triumvirate or, the authentic memoirs of A. B. and C. In two volumes. Vol. 2

Griffith, Richard -1788

Sterne and Sterneana

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p><i>The Triumvirate</i> is a two-volume novel by Richard Griffith (d. 1788) which incorporates comic and sentimental writing along with facetious paratextual matter and an intrusive narrator, ‘Biographer Triglyph’. The work appears to have taken Griffith a number of years to complete. External evidence indicates that it was already underway in the late 1750s; the Preface is dated to 1761; while the narrative alludes to texts not published until 1764. Although commenced pre-<i>Tristram</i>, the novel in its published form is clearly indebted in a number of ways to the first six volumes of <i>Tristram Shandy</i>. At times, Sterne’s work is itself a focal point. In the opinion of ‘Biographer Triglyph’, for instance, the third instalment of <i>Tristram Shandy</i> was an improvement on previous instalments, and contained ‘a good deal of laughable impertinence’. More broadly, Triglyph declares, ‘Whatever is neither quite sense, nor absolute nonsense, is true Shandeic’ (1:xv).</p><p>The main narrative, or diegetic level, concerns three male friends, Andrews, Beville and Carewe. Gathered at Andrews’ farm in the North of England, the trio engage in extended conversations and relate at length their private histories, which turn out to be intertwined. The twisting and tonally uneven narrative is by turns affective, moralising, amatory and bawdy. Volume one, which focuses on Andrews and Beville, evokes such sentimental themes as male heartbreak, financial distress, and the virtue of private sympathy in a cold-hearted world. The second volume, which turns to the libertine Carewe, offers more salacious and transgressive fare before Carewe undergoes a moral reformation and the various plot strands are resolved via the stereotypical romance device of a shipwreck. As well as in its mixed, ‘<i>tragi-comic</i>’ style (1:xiii), correspondences with <i>Tristram Shandy</i> in this central narrative mainly take the form of direct allusions and lewd overtones – as when, in massaging the sprained leg of Mrs Seawell, Carewe falls ‘into the ambush’ by pursuing ‘the retreating enemy too far’ (2:249). Other elements of the story are partially based on Griffith’s life, most notably the courtship between Andrews and Miss Beville and the tale of Beville’s financial misfortunes.</p><p>The novel is more extensively imitative at the formal and extra-diegetic levels. Echoing Sterne, it incorporates missing chapters along with a mock subscription list and a facetious Appendix that alludes to <i>Tristram Shandy</i>’s black, blank and marbled pages. ‘Biographer Triglyph’, the intrusive (or obtrusive) narrator, meanwhile, is at least partly modelled on Tristram Shandy. For Triglyph, as for Tristram himself, digressions are incontestably the ‘sunshine … the life, the soul of reading’ (TS, 1.22). As Triglyph puts it in his Preface: ‘if I did not interlope, now and then, to the great relief of my readers, what would these two volumes be good for?’ (1:xviii). Offering reflections on both his own narrative and the broader context of print publication, Triglyph evinces uncertainty about readerly tastes, within what is perceived to be an increasingly fragmented marketplace for fiction. The Preface registers the need to ‘entertain the three different classes of auditors; pit, box, and gallery’ (1:xiii) while the mock subscription list envisages various types of reader subscribing to different parts of the novel. It is owing to their ‘unhealthful state’, Triglyph states (echoing Fielding’s culinary metaphors), that modern readers need to be served ‘unwholesome seasonings’ to digest their ‘proper food’. This is not least the case, he claims, with <i>Tristram Shandy</i>, the work of an ‘anomalous, heteroclite genius’ whose narrative vindication of ‘humanity and benevolence’ is regrettably laced with obscenity (1:xiv).</p><p>By contrast to <i>Tristram Shandy</i>, Griffith’s novel was not a commercial success. One Dublin reprint appeared in 1765, but there were no further editions. Critical assessments were muted. A short notice in the <i>Critical Review</i> (March 1765) allowed that the first volume contained ‘some sober rational entertainment’ and that volume 2 introduced more lively ‘adventures’, albeit ‘at the expence of probability, and sometimes of morality’. A slightly fuller assessment in the <i>Monthly Review</i> (April 1765) noted the misleading nature of the title (which suggested a work of ‘<i>political</i> anecdotes’) and questioned the author’s ‘pretensions’ to novel-writing: ‘Without Fielding’s fine parts, he affects to be Fielding; without Sterne’s original genius, he would pass for a Sterne…’. In subsequent years, the most significant reflections on the novel and its association with Sterne would appear in works written by Griffith and his wife, the author and dramatist Elizabeth Griffith. In the second instalment of <i>A Series of Genuine Letters between Henry and Frances</i> (1766), which was co-authored by the couple, ‘Frances’ (Elizabeth) notes the work’s mixing of ‘<i>pathetic</i>’ and ‘<i>comical</i>’ modes (3:245) and registers her disapproval of Triglyph’s indecent intrusions, or ‘reprehensible Blots’ (3:118). The <i>Genuine Letters</i> also contains a ‘postponed’ (cancelled) chapter in the narrator’s voice (3:238), an epilogue to a projected third volume of the novel (4:23-25), and reflections on the connections between the novel’s characters and Richard and Elizabeth themselves. Recalling Sterne’s elisions between himself and his narrators, Tristram and Yorick, Richard signs off a number of his own letters as Andrews, Carewe, and Triglyph.</p><p>A more direct attempt to cement an association with Sterne arrived in 1770 in the form of <i>The Posthumous Works of a Late Celebrated Genius, Deceased</i>, a fictional autobiography of Sterne that was written by Griffith (see see Oates.417, an edition of 1775). Within this work, Griffith compares Triglyph with Tristram and associates the text’s persona, ‘Tria juncta in uno’, not just with the central characters from <i>The Triumvirate</i> but with Sterne himself. Alluding back to <i>The Triumvirate</i>, the <i>Posthumous Works</i> also defends Sterne from the charge of obscenity that Griffith had previously made against him. ‘Sterne’ here confirms that he had no intention to ‘debauch or corrupt another person’s mind or principles’ (1:54) and a shared delight in bawdy tales now unites the authors. In truth, <i>The Triumvirate</i> had itself been a conflicted work in tone, form and outlook: an unwieldy novel that criticised Sternean comedy and affective sentimentalism for pandering to debased tastes while enlisting both modes across its own narrative levels.</p><p>Shaun Regan</p><p><b>References:</b></p><p>Bosch, René, <i>Labyrinth of Digressions: 'Tristram Shandy' as Perceived and Influenced by Sterne's Early Imitators,</i> trans. Piet Verhoeff (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007)</p><p>Griffith, Elizabeth, and Richard Griffith, <i>A Series of Genuine Letters between Henry and Frances</i>, 6 vols (London, 1757-1770)</p><p>Griffith, Richard, <i>The Posthumous Works of a Late Celebrated Genius, Deceased</i>, 2 vols (London, 1770) [see Oates.417]</p><p>Newbould, M-C., <i>Adaptations of Laurence Sterne’s Fiction: Sterneana, 1760-1840</i> (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013)</p><p>Regan, Shaun, 'Locating Richard Griffith: Genre, Nation, Canon', <i>Irish University Review</i>, Special Issue on <i>Irish Fiction, 1660-1830</i>, 41:1 (Spring 2011), 95-114</p></p>

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