Washinton Irving Essay, Research Paper
Washington Irving Washington Irving was the first native American to succeed as a professional writer. He remains important as a pioneer in American humor and the development of the short story. Irving was greatly admired and imitated in the 19th century. Toward the end of his career, his reputation declined due to the sentimentality and excessive gentility of much of his work (”Irving” 479). Washington Irving’s time spent in the Hudson Valley and abroad contributed to his writing of The Devil and Tom Walker, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Rip Van Winkle. Irving was born in New York City on April 3, 1783, the youngest of eleven children in a merchant family. Unlike his brothers, Irving did not attend nearby Columbia College, instead he was apprenticed in 1801 to a lawyer. In 1806, he passed the bar examination, but remained financially dependent on his family until the publication of The Sketch Book. In the meantime, Irving did odd jobs for the family as agent and lobbyist. It seems like he worked as little as possible, and for years pursued an amateur or semiprofessional interest in literature (”Irving” 479). In his free time, he read avidly and wandered when he could in the misty, rolling Hudson River valley, an area steeped in local folklore and legend that would serve as an inspiration for his later writings. (”Washington Irving” DISC) At nineteen, Mr. Irving began writing satirical letters under the pseudonym “Jonathan Oldstyle.” He wrote to a newspaper owned by his brother Peter, named the New York Morning Chronicle. His first book, Salmagundi, was a collaboration with another brother, William and their friend James Kirke Paulding. This book satirized early New York theater and poked fun at the political, social, and cultural life of the city. Washington Irving’s second book, A History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, is narrated by the fictitious Diedrich Knickerbocker. This book is a comical, deliberately inaccurate account of New York’s Dutch colonization (”Washington Irving” DISC). Knickerbocker History and the almost thirty parts of Irving’s next critically acclaimed book, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., show that his roots in New York and travels abroad gave him the basis for these works. The lively story of “The Devil and Tom Walker” is the story of Tom Walker, his termagant wife, and their separate confrontations with the devil. The New England folk tale is told with very little addition says Sara Rodes:Irving could have heard this tale in New York as well as in new England, for the general picture of the sharp “Yankee” represented by Tom Walker fitted well into the New Yorkers’ idea of the new England character. Irving also uses the folk tradition as a base for his own imaginings rather than keeping close to the folk versions for the whole story. However, he always keeps much of the true folk spirit in his stories no matter how much he may add and romanticize. He often eliminates the roughness of the folk version but his folk lore is authentic and his use of it legitimate. (248)
In this folk tale we see again that Mr. Irving has used his background to basically retell a story that he might have heard as a child. Also in, “The Devil and Tom Walker,” which, despite its wildly improbable plot, foreshadows the best of Hawthornes’s fictional exposure of Yankee shrewdness and Puritan hypocrisy (Ferguson 391). The Sketch Book, also contains the classic tale of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” This is the story of Ichabod Crane, which is from Hebrew meaning “inglorious,” or literally, “without honor” (Bone 4). Ichabod’s encounter with the Headless Horseman is the dramatic climax of the story. In the folktale of German origin Irving has once again transplanted the story to take places in the Hudson Valley of New York and achieved something more than the routine tale of suspense or the bizarre anecdote (”Irving” 480). His descriptions of Sleepy Hollow and the people were so realistic and homey that old timers of the lower Hudson River claimed to have known Brom Bones himself (Rodes 248). “. . . Irving is thoroughly capable of creating pure fiction form his own imagination. He is especially good at elaborating and embroidering the skeleton of a local folk tradition . . .,” says Sara Rodes (247). Another tale from The Sketch Book, “Rip Van Winkle” is an American version of an ancient folk tale in which Irving keeps very close to the folk version and with which he makes his greatest contribution to and use of American folklore. Richard Dana of The North American Review and Miscellaneous Journal has this to say about the story, “Rip Van Winkle” is our favorite amongst the new stories. We feel more at home in it with the author, than in any of this collection” (4). In Mr. Irving’s later years he was no longer the brash young wit and satirist but a revered man of letters, recipient of an honorary degree from Oxford, friend of notables in virtually every walk of life (”Irving” 480). Nearing his death on November 28, 1859 Irving lived in Tarrytown, New York. He had rebuilt an old Dutch house near Sleepy Hollow and he named it Sunnyside. Other than the revision of his works for uniform edition published in 1848-1850 his most notable work in his later years was the 5-volume Life of George Washington. Noticeable in most of Irving’s writings was his use of folklore to make dynamic classics. In three distinct ways, Irving shows his knowledge of folklore. First, there is his portrayal of ghosts; second, his accounts of the elaborate rules surrounding the successful discovery of buried treasure and third, his use of local legends as basis for the tales (Rodes 247). In conclusion, Washington Irving’s time spent studying local folklore made his short stories seem more realistic to readers of all kinds.