Shandy Hall

We’ve just got back from a visit to Shandy Hall. I sure I’ve written about it here before: it was the home of Laurence Sterne, the writer of Tristram Shandy. Sterne was the vicar of Coxwold and Shandy Hall, at that time, was the vicarage.

I find it an inspiring place. In addition to the house itself and the garden, there is an excellent second-hand bookshop which leans heavily (as Sterne himself did) towards the off-beat and the experimental. They also sell plants. We bought one or two (along with A William Burroughs Reader). I like the idea of bringing a bit of there back here. I suspect there is a bit of the primitive sympathetic magician lurking in all of us, whether we like it or not.

The Laurence Sterne Foundation also make imaginative use of the small exhibition space at the hall, staging exhibitions with a Shandean edge. The current exhibition, Paint Her To Your Own Mind, is based on a blank page in Tristram Shandy. Sterne invites his readers to fill it for themselves with an an idealized vision of female beauty:

To conceive this right, —call for pen and ink— here’s paper ready to your hand, —Sit down, Sir, paint her to your own mind—as like your mistress as you can —as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you—‘tis all one to me— please but your own fancy in it.

For the exhibition, 147 artists, writers and composers were invited to carry out Sterne’s instructions. It’s well worth a visit and runs until September 16th.

When we got home, I felt moved to write a haiku:


Shandy Hall

footsteps through the grass leading
to the next chapter


Sentimental Landscapes

We’ve just spent an interesting afternoon visiting an exhibition at Shandy Hall, the former home of Laurence Sterne, writer of Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.

Entitled Sentimental Landscapes, it explores the world of 19th century “endless landscapes” or myriorama. Long, oblong panoramic landscapes are sliced vertically into rectangular segments. The picture is cleverly drawn so that the segments  can be rearranged in any order. There are often millions of possible rearrangements of a myriorama.

As part of the exhibition, Guardian cartoonist Tom Gauld has been commissioned to create a modern example, in the spirit of Laurence Sterne. One can play at rearranging parts of it online.

Three things strike me. Firstly, it turns out to be far more intriguing to play with a “real” cardboard myriorama than to play with one online, fun though that is. The cardboard versions have an uncanny quality. They remind me of tarot cards and of the glossy, coloured prints in old history books. Secondly, I’m struck by the similarities between the interactive nature of myriorama and modern computer games – probably because, only yesterday, one of my sons demonstrated to me the workings of The Stanley Parable. Finally, even though one would expect it to be the case, one cannot help but be struck with the way the pictures reflect the preoccupations of the times they were made: picturesque scenes featuring hills woods, lakes and -of course- ruins as one might imagine them to be on the continent. An internet image search throws up numerous examples.

After I’d first written this post, I went and practised the Haydn piano sonata I blogged about the other week. A minute or two into my playing it struck me how a young woman -most likely a woman- living one hundred and eighty years ago might have spent a Wednesday involved in the self-same pursuits.


On a completely different note, I recently spent a very happy ten minutes watching this. As the person who drew my attention to it said, it makes a change from the old British film of the famous Auden poem, Night Mail, good though that is.