‘Trim’s squiggle’ or ‘The Flourish of Liberty’ in Tristram Shandy (Vol IX p.17) is an exuberant and life-affirming visual declaration. As he has already done throughout the previous eight volumes, Laurence Sterne invites the reader to join him in an exercise of imagination, understanding and interpretation that brings his novel to life.
On page 17 the reader learns that Uncle Toby and Trim are marching up to the Widow Wadman’s front door where Toby will propose marriage.
Nothing, continued the Corporal, can be so sad as confinement for life – or so sweet, an’ please your honour, as liberty. Nothing, Trim – said my Uncle Toby, musing – Whil’st a man is free – cried the corporal, giving a flourish with his stick thus –
And the story is given a visual jolt – a writhing pathway that represents the journey of Trim’s cane through the air. How it hatches in the mind of the reader is up to each individual. Is it a languid and stately passage? A rapier-like swish? Is it from top to bottom or bottom to top?
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman Vol IX p.17