Novelist Laurence Sterne wrote in a time in which the typical novel followed a linear, bildungsroman-esque, storyline. Time almost always moved forward and emotions were explained through the chronological understanding of time and events. Sterne’s, Tristram Shandy, was atypical for the time period, it provides the reader with no context of stories, and incorporates a plot line that is sporadic and disconnected. Examples of calendrical time in Tristram Shandy, are few and far between. In Tristram Shandy, we receive our understanding of time and events through Tristram Shandy’s personal conscience and his varying emotions instead of a built up database of circumstances in which we can refer back to for understanding. By doing this Sterne was borrowing concepts from John Locke’s theory of time, Sterne was suggesting that although many instances can take up the same literal space in time their resulting effects and feelings can take up differing amounts of emotional time. Sterne displays how ideas pass through a character’s mind, and how specific ideas and memories can slow down time or draw it out.
John Locke was not himself a novelist, Laurence Sterne adapted Locke’s beliefs on time to criticize other authors portrayal of human understanding during the 1700’s. I am not sure if I can explain this perfectly, but I started to think about this same type of human understanding in terms of Victorian visuality, specifically the portrait. This may be a very vague connection but, within The Picture of Dorian Gray, the portrait conveys what time and place and linear understanding cannot. Art works as a vehicle to explain, similarly to Tristram Shandy’s rants, human emotion, fear, and personal conscience. Out of this sort of blind leap I made between Tristram Shandy and Dorian Gray, characters both questioning who they are and their worth, I am wondering if the dispersion of different visual mediums helped to expand human understanding of emotion in the Victorian era. Perhaps portraits were so powerful in the Victorian area because they put into question, more then ever before, what text was missing or ignoring. Pictures, images, advertisement, etc. present us with dialogue, with subliminal messages, and questions without the excuse or the explanation of the past or a specific linear understanding. Images shove problems and questions in our face and the lack of explanation leaves the viewer left to interpret and understand. It is often said images work to bring up feelings and emotions words cannot. Dorian Gray’s portrait forces him to view himself and to question himself, he cannot look to the past explanations, or past text for answers. In a way images enforce John Locke’s belief that specific emotions can be understood more clearly without chronological context and explanation, images can dredge up and convey issues that words and history blur.