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Washington Irving (1783-1859) Image Courtesy Library of Congress. Key Facts about Irving. Born to a prosperous New York family in 1783, he was the youngest of eleven children. He studied law at age 16 and was admitted to the bar at age 23.
We send our youth abroad to grow luxurious and effeminate in Europe; it appears to me, that a previous tour on the prairies would be more likely to produce that manliness, simplicity, and self-dependence, most in unison with our political institutions.
Irving intended his work to be enjoyed. Consider how he creates humor through the following:
Irving may have described his style better than anyone else:
It is the play of thought and sentiment and language; the weaving in of characters, lightly yet expressively delineated; the familiar and faithful exhibition of scenes in common life; and the half-concealed vain of humour that is often playing through the whole – these are what I aim at, and upon which I felicitate myself in proportion as I think I succeed.
Consider also the statement from “Rip Van Winkle” concerning Rip’s “aversion to all kinds of profitable labor” (p. 305), or the following paragraph about his family farm (p. 305):
In fact, he declared it was of no use to work on his farm; it was the most pestilent little piece of ground in the whole country; every thing about it went wrong, and would go wrong, in spite of him. His fences were continually falling to pieces; his cows would either go astray, or get among the cabbages; weeds were sure to grow quicker in his fields than anywhere else; the rain always made a point of setting in just as he had some outdoor work to do; so that though his patrimonial estate had dwindled away under his management, acre by acre, until there was little more left than a mere patch of Indian corn and potatoes, yet it was the worse conditioned farm in the neighborhood.
In “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the conflict between Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones is between two insecure men, reflections perhaps of a nation trying to establish and secure an identity, domestically and abroad, through pronouncements such as the Missouri Compromise of 1820 (the year the story was published) and the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Ichabod represents artificiality, pretentious intellectualism, and the cowardice and frailty association with the bookworm, while Brom represents brute force and anti-intellectualism, but also rustic ingenuity and “mettle and mischief” (p. 592). Neither seems to have the complete sympathy of Irving or the reader, but Brom does win Katrina and we could admire his cunning resourcefulness, however devious.
Are these two types of characters alive and well in America today?
Consider the following statement on Rip Van Winkle by Leslie Fiedler in his Love and Death in the American Novel:
The figure of Rip Van Winkle presides over the birth of the American imagination; and it is fitting that our first successful home-grown legend should memorialize, however playfully, the flight of the dreamer from the shrew–into the mountains and out of time, away from the drab duties of home and town toward the good companions and the magic keg of beer. Ever since, the typical male protagonist of our fiction has been a man on the run, harried into the forest and out to sea, down the river or into combat–anywhere to avoid ‘civilization,’ which is to say, the confrontation of a man and woman which leads to the fall, to sex, marriage, and responsibility. One of the factors that determines theme and form in our great books is this strategy of evasion, this retreat to nature and childhood which makes our literature (and life!) so charmingly and infuriatingly ‘boyish.’
Is it possible:
Irving’s narrators cannot always be taken at face value.
Consider the narrator’s own comment at the end of “Sleepy Hollow”:
Consider “Rip Van Winkle”:
Irving is America’s first major Romantic.
“… the sky was clear and serene, nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance”
Consider “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in terms of Emerson’s “American Scholar”:
The American Tradition in Literature 11/e