As mechanized versions of “natural” objects flourished in France and England in the early eighteenth century, capturing the public consciousness through exhibits at the Musée de l'Homme and Cox Museum, the works of contemporary artists Jean-Honorè Fragonard (1732-1806) and Laurence Sterne (1713-68) both parody the repressive effects of mechanized visions of bodies, bodies that tick like clockwork in their regularity and predictability. In this context, Fragonard’s illustrations of Jean de la Fontaine’s Contes et Nouvelles en vers, the bawdy fables first printed in the mid-seventeenth century, appear particularly discursive with this culture of mechanics. In illustrating la Fontaine, Fragonard’s focus, not on the visually appealing scenes involving Pagamin and Bartholmée, but rather on the calendrier that governs the sexual relations between Bartholmée and her husband, Richard de Quinzica, suggests a fascination on Fragonard’s behalf with failed patriarchal understandings of female desire. Sterne’s relation of the winding of a grandfather clock to the acquittal of conjugal duties in his Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman suggests a similarly flawed attempt to manage the body conceptually, a project which this paper suggests fails due to the body’s resistance to conformity and demarcation. Walter Shandy’s continued alignment of Elizabeth Shandy with clocks, machines and calendars belies the novel’s obsession with a temporally balanced human body, despite the novel’s temporally askew chronology. Building on the work of Frèdèric Ogèe, this paper suggests parallels between the two artists’ works and explores the philosophic and cultural implications of such flawed understandings of human sexual desire.
Rickerson, Micah S., "Clocks, Calendars, and (regulating) Desire in Sterne and Fragonard" (2012). English Publications and Other Works.