Widow Wadman

If you are not familiar with how deeply attractive the Widow Wadman is, or to help you paint her to your own mind, the following extracts from Tristram Shandy show what an effect she has on poor, innocent Uncle Toby.


At present, I hope I shall be sufficiently understood, in telling the reader, my uncle Toby fell in love:

— Not that the phrase is at all to my liking: for to say a man is fallen in love, — or that he is deeply in love, — or up to the ears, — and sometimes even over head and ears in it, — carries an idiomatical kind of implication, that love is a thing below a man:— this is recurring again to Plato’s opinion, which, with all his divinityship, — I hold to be damnable and heretical;— and so much for that.

Let love therefore be what it will, — my uncle Toby fell into it.

— And possibly, gentle reader, with such a temptation — so wouldst thou: For never did thy eyes behold, or thy concupiscence covet any thing in this world, more concupiscible than widow Wadman.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Vol. 6, Chapter XXXVII


— You shall see the very place, Madam; said my uncle Toby.

Mrs. Wadman blush’d — look’d towards the door — turn’d pale— blush’d slightly again — recovered her natural colour —blush’d worse than ever ; which for the sake of the unlearned reader, I translate thus —


                                                                                    Widowrama, Felix Bennett

Whilst all this was running through Mrs. Wadman’s imagination, my uncle Toby had risen from the sopha, and got to the other side of the parlour-door, to give Trim an order about it in the passage ——


*** — I believe it is in the garret, said my uncle Toby — I saw it there, an’ please your honour, this morning, answered Trim — Then prithee, step directly for it, Trim, said my uncle Toby, and bring it into the parlour.

The Corporal did not approve of the orders, but most cheerfully obey’d them. The first was not an act of his will – the second was ; so he put on his Montero cap, and went as fast as his lame knee would let him. My uncle Toby returned into the parlour, and sat himself down again upon the sopha.

— You shall lay your finger upon the place—said my uncle Toby.— I will not touch it, however, quoth Mrs. Wadman to herself.

This requires a second translation:— it shews what little knowledge is got by mere words—we must go up to the first springs.

Now in order to clear up the mist which hangs upon these three pages, I must endeavour to be as clear as possible myself.

Rub your hands thrice across your foreheads—blow your noses—cleanse your emunctories—sneeze, my good people !

——God bless you——

Now give me all the help you can.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Vol 9, Chapter XX


                                                                           Emunctories, Felix Bennett


I am half distracted, captain Shandy, said Mrs. Wadman, holding up her cambric handkerchief to her left eye, as she approach’d the door of my uncle Toby’s sentry-box—a mote—or sand—or something— I know not what, has got into this eye of mine——do look into it—it is not in the white—

                In saying which, Mrs. Wadman edged herself close in beside my uncle Toby, and squeezing herself down upon the corner of his bench, she gave him an opportunity of doing it without rising up— Do look into it—said she.

                Honest soul! thou didst look into it with as much innocency of heart, as ever child look’d into a raree-shew-box; and ‘twere as much a sin to have hurt thee.

             —If a man will be peeping of his own accord into things of that nature—I’ve nothing to say to it—

                My uncle Toby never did : and I will answer for him, that we would have sat quietly upon a sofa from June to January, (which, you know, takes in both the hot and cold months) with an eye as fine as the Thracian Rodope’s besides him, without being able to tell, whether it was a black or a blue one.

   The difficulty was to get my uncle Toby to look at one, at all.

‘Tis surmounted. And

 I see him yonder with his pipe pendulous in his hand, and the ashes falling out of it—looking—and looking—then rubbing his eyes—and looking again, with twice the good-nature that ever Gaileo look’d for a spot in the sun.

          — In vain! For by all the powers which animate the organ——Widow Wadman’s left eye shines this moment as lucid as her right—there is neither mote, or sand, or dust, or chaff, or speck, or particle of opake matter floating in it.— There is nothing, my dear paternal uncle! but one lambent delicious fire, furtively shooting out from every part of it, in all directions, into thine—

              — If thou lookest, uncle Toby, in search of this mote one moment longer—thou art undone…


An eye is for all the world exactly like a cannon, in this respect; That it is not so much the eye or the cannon, in themselves, as it is the carriage of the eye — and the carriage of the cannon, by which both the one and the other are enabled to do so much execution. I don’t think the comparison a bad one: However, as ’tis made and placed at the head of the chapter, as much for use as ornament, all I desire in return, is, that wheneven I speak of Mrs. Wadman’s eyes (except once in the next period) that you keep it in your fancy.

      I protest, Madam, said my uncle Toby, I can see nothing whatever in your eye.

      It is not in the white; said Mrs. Wadman: my uncle Toby look’d with might and main into the pupil—

      Now of all the eyes, which ever were created— from your own, Madam, up to those of Venus herself, which certainly were as venereal a pair of eyes as ever stood in a head—there never was an eye of them all, so fitted to rob my uncle Toby of his repose, as the very eye, at which he was looking—it was not, Madam, a rolling eye—a romping or a wanton one—nor was it an eye sparkling—petulant or imperious—of high claims and terrifying exactions, which would have curdled at once that milk of human nature, of which my uncle  Toby was made up—but ‘twas an eye full of gentle salutations—and soft responses—speaking—not like the trumpet stop of some ill-made organ, in which many an eye  I talk to, holds coarse converse—but whispering soft—like the last low accents of an expiring saint—‘How can you live comfortless, captain Shandy, and alone, without a bosom to lean your head on—or trust your cares to?’

                It was an eye—

                But I shall be in love with it myself, if I say another word about it.

                —It did my uncle Toby’s business.


The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Vol 8, Chapter XXIV – XXV