History of Literature

Washington Irving

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"

"Rip Van Winkle"

Illustrations by Arthur Rackham


Washington Irving



Washington Irving

American author

born April 3, 1783, New York, N.Y., U.S.
died Nov. 28, 1859, Tarrytown, N.Y.

writer called the “first American man of letters.” He is best known for the short stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.”

The favourite and last of 11 children of an austere Presbyterian father and a genial Anglican mother, young, frail Irving grew up in an atmosphere of indulgence. He escaped a college education, which his father required of his older sons, but read intermittently at the law, notably in the office of Josiah Ogden Hoffman, with whose pretty daughter Matilda he early fell in love. He wrote a series of whimsically satirical essays over the signature of Jonathan Oldstyle, Gent., published in Peter Irving’s newspaper, the Morning Chronicle, in 1802–03. He made several trips up the Hudson, another into Canada for his health, and took an extended tour of Europe in 1804–06.

On his return he passed the bar examination late in 1806 and soon set up as a lawyer. But during 1807–08 his chief occupation was to collaborate with his brother William and James K. Paulding in the writing of a series of 20 periodical essays entitled Salmagundi. Concerned primarily with passing phases of contemporary society, the essays retain significance as an index to the social milieu.

His A History of New York . . . by Diedrich Knickerbocker (1809) was a comic history of the Dutch regime in New York, prefaced by a mock-pedantic account of the world from creation onward. Its writing was interrupted in April 1809 by the sudden death of Matilda Hoffman, as grief incapacitated him. In 1811 he moved to Washington, D.C., as a lobbyist for the Irving brothers’ hardware-importing firm, but his life seemed aimless for some years. He prepared an American edition of Thomas Campbell’s poems, edited the Analectic Magazine, and acquired a staff colonelcy during the War of 1812. In 1815 he went to Liverpool to look after the interests of his brothers’ firm. In London he met Sir Walter Scott, who encouraged him to renewed effort. The result was The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent (1819–20), a collection of stories and essays that mix satire and whimsicality with fact and fiction. Most of the book’s 30-odd pieces concern Irving’s impressions of England, but six chapters deal with American subjects. Of these, the tales “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” have been called the first American short stories. They are both Americanized versions of German folktales. The main character of “Rip Van Winkle” is a henpecked husband who sleeps for 20 years and awakes as an old man to find his wife dead, his daughter happily married, and America now an independent country. The tremendous success of The Sketch Book in both England and the United States assured Irving that he could live by his pen. In 1822 he produced Bracebridge Hall, a sequel to The Sketch Book. He traveled in Germany, Austria, France, Spain, the British Isles, and later in his own country.

Early in 1826 he accepted the invitation of Alexander H. Everett to attach himself to the American legation in Spain, where he wrote his Columbus (1828), followed by The Companions of Columbus (1831). Meanwhile, Irving had become absorbed in the legends of the Moorish past and wrote A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada (1829) and The Alhambra (1832), a Spanish counterpart of The Sketch Book.

After a 17-year absence Irving returned to New York in 1832, where he was warmly received. He made a journey west and produced in rapid succession A Tour of the Prairies (1835), Astoria (1836), and The Adventures of Captain Bonneville (1837). Except for four years (1842–46) as minister to Spain, Irving spent the remainder of his life at his home, “Sunnyside,” in Tarrytown, on the Hudson River, where he devoted himself to literary pursuits.



Type of work: Tale
Author: Washington Irving (1783-1859)
Type of plot: Regional romance
Time of plot: Eighteenth century
Locale: New York State
First published: 1819-1820


American literature's first great writer, Irving was responsible for two trends in American letters: one toward local color and the legendary tale, the other toward the historical novel. This tale belongs to the first trend and has fascinated and delighted readers for almost two hundred years.


Principal Characters

Ichabod Crane, a schoolmaster of Sleepy Hollow, near Tarry Town on the Hudson. He dreams of a com-fortable marriage to Katrina. Because of his belief in ghosts, he is frightened from the area by a ghostly rider.
Gunpowder, Ichabod's gaunt horse.
Katrina Van Tassel, a rosy-cheeked student in Icha-bod's singing classes.
Mynheer Van Tassel, her wealthy farmer father.
The Headless Horseman, a legendary apparition, supposedly a Hessian cavalryman whose head was shot off by a cannonball.
Abraham Van Brunt, called Brom Bones, who is in love with Katrina. Disguised as the Headless Horseman, he pursues Ichabod and throws a pumpkin at him. Ich-abod leaves Sleepy Hollow permanently.


The Story

Near Tarry Town on the Hudson is a little valley which, years ago, was the quietest place in the world. A drowsy influence hung over the place and people so that the region was known as Sleepy Hollow, and the lads were called Sleepy Hollow boys. Some said that the valley was bewitched. It was true that marvelous stories were told there.
The main figure to haunt the valley was a headless horseman. Some said the specter was the apparition of a Hessian horseman who had lost his head from a cannon-ball, but, whatever it was, it was often seen in the valley and adjacent countryside in the gloom of winter nights. The specter was known to all as the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
In the valley, years ago, there lived a schoolteacher called Ichabod Crane. He looked like a scarecrow because of his long, skinny frame and his snipelike nose. As was the custom in that fertile Dutch countryside, he boarded with the parents of his pupils a week at a time. Fortunately for him, the Dutch larders were full and the tables groaning with food, for the schoolmaster had a wonderful appetite. He was always welcome in the country homes because in small ways he made himself useful to the farmers. He was patient with the children, and he loved to spend the long winter nights with the families of his pupils, exchanging tales of ghosts and haunted places while ruddy apples roasted on the hearths.
Ichabod believed heartily in ghosts, and his walks home after an evening of tale-telling were often filled with fear. His only source of courage at those times was his voice, loud and nasal as it made the night resound with many a psalm tune.
The schoolteacher picked up a little odd change by holding singing classes. In one of his classes, he first became aware of a plump and rosycheeked girl named Katrina Van Tassel. She was the only child of a very substantial farmer, and that fact added to her charms for the ever-hungry Ichabod. Since she was not only beau¬tiful but also lively, she was a great favorite among the lads in the neighborhood.
Abraham Van Brunt was Katrina's favorite squire. The Dutch first shortened his name to Brom and then called him Brom Bones when he became known for the tall and powerful frame of his body. He was a lively lad with a fine sense of humor and a tremendous amount of energy. When other suitors saw his horse hitched outside Katrina's house on a Sunday night, they went on their way. Brom Bones was a formidable rival for the gaunt and shaggy Ichabod. Brom would have liked to carry the battle into the open, but the schoolteacher knew better than to tangle with him physically. Brom Bones could do little but play practical jokes on lanky Ichabod.
The whole countryside was invited one fall evening to a quilting frolic at Mynheer Van Tassel's. For the occasion, Ichabod borrowed a horse from the farmer with whom he was then living. The horse, called Gunpowder, was as gaunt as Ichabod himself, but the steed still had a fair amount of spirit. The two of them were a sight as they jogged happily along to the party.
Ichabod was well pleased by every prospect he saw on the Van Tassel farm, the most prosperous holding for miles around. Perhaps Ichabod might be able to sell it and, with the proceeds, go farther west. It was a pretty picture he saw as he passed fields full of shocks of corn and pumpkins, granaries stuffed with grain, and meadows and barnlots filled with sleek cattle and plump fowl.
The party was a merry one with many lively dances. Ichabod was at his best when he danced with Katrina. After a time, he went out on the dark porch with the men and exchanged more Sleepy Hollow ghost stories—but the food was best of all. Ichabod did credit to all the cakes and pies, meats and tea.
After the others left, he tarried to pay court to Katrina, but it was not long before he started home crestfallen on the gaunt Gunpowder. All the stories he had heard came back to him, and as he rode along in the darkness, he became more dismal. He heard groans as the branches of the famed Major Andre tree rubbed against one another. He even thought he saw something moving beneath it.
When he came to the bridge over Wiley's Swamp, Gunpowder balked. The harder Ichabod urged him on, the more the horse bucked. Then, on the other side of the marsh, Ichabod saw something huge and misshapen.
The figure refused to answer him when he called. Ichabod's hair stood straight on end. Because it was too late to turn back, however, the schoolmaster kept to the road. The stranger—it looked like a headless horseman, but it seemed to hold its head on the pommel—kept pace with him, fast or slow. Ichabod could not stand going slowly, and he whipped Gunpowder to a gallop. As his saddle loosened, he nearly lost his grip, but he hugged the horse around the neck. He could not even sing a psalm tune.
When he reached the church bridge, where by tradition the headless specter would disappear in a flash of fire and brimstone, Ichabod heard the horseman close in on him. As he turned to look, the spirit threw his head at him. Ichabod tried to dodge, but the head tumbled him into the dust.
In the morning, a shattered pumpkin was found near the bridge. Gunpowder was grazing at the farmer's gate nearby. Ichabod, however, was never seen in Sleepy Hollow again. In the valley, they say that Brom Bones, long after he had married the buxom Katrina, laughed heartily whenever the story was told of the horseman who had thrown his head at the schoolteacher during that ghostly midnight pursuit.


Critical Evaluation

Washington Irving was by inclination an amused observer of people and customs. By birth, he was in a position to pursue that inclination. Son of a New York merchant in good financial standing, he was the youngest of eleven children, several of whom helped him to take prolonged trips to Europe for his health and fancy. He was responsible for two trends in American literature: one, toward the legendary tale, steeped in local color; the other, toward the historical novel. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" belongs to the first trend.
The two best-known of Irving's stories are "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," both of which appeared originally in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., a collection of tales and familiar essays. Both stories are based on German folklore, which Irving adapted to a lower New York State setting peopled with Dutch farmers.
In "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," the Dutch farmers make up most of the folkloric elements, for Ichabod Crane is an outsider, a Yankee schoolmaster among the canny Dutch settlers. As an outsider, and a peculiarlooking one at that, Ichabod Crane becomes the butt of local humor and the natural victim for Brom Bones's practical jokes. Most of the humorous sallies of the Sleepy Hollow boys are in the vein of good-natured ribbing. Yet Brom Bones's practical jokes are somewhat more serious because of the rather unequal rivalry between Brom and Ichabod for the hand of Katrina Van Tassel. It is in the relationship between Brom and Ichabod that the common folk theme of the scapegoat is most clearly seen.
Other folk themes appear in the story as well. Among them is the belief that one can ward off evil spirits with religious symbols; thus, Ichabod sings psalms on his fearfilled homeward treks after evenings of storytelling. The distinction of having a special ghost—one with a definite identity—to haunt a specific locality is a matter of honor and prestige, highly respected as a folkloric theme. Here, the putative Hessian, the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, fills the role with grace, wit, and style. The character of the comely wench, over whose favors men wrangle, dispute, and plot, is as common a catalyst in folklore as in life; hence, Katrina Van Tassel functions as fulcrum and folk theme in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
These and other themes from folklore and legend appear in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" as well as other tales by Washington Irving, for legendary material was one of Irving's two major interests, the other being history, a closely related field. As far as Irving's work is concerned, the two interests seem to feed upon each other to the mutual benefit of both: his historical writings are enlivened by his cultural perceptions, and his stories are made more vivid by his knowledge of history. One of the first professional writers in America, and among the first to exercise a significant influence in Great Britain and the Continent, Irving has been called the father of American literature.




Тyре of work: Tale
Author: Washington Irving (1783-1859)
Type of plot: Regional romance
Time of plot: Eighteenth century
Locale: New York State
First published: 1819-1820


Even though "Rip Van Winkle" was originally based on a Germanic folk tale, it has become, since its first appearance in Irving's Sketch Book, a basic American myth. The story of Rip's escape from his shrewish wife and his domestic responsibilities into the mountains with his dog and gun, and his subsequent return has been a popular favorite since its publication.


Principal Characters

Rip Van Winkle, who was born along the Hudson River, of an old Dutch family. To get away from his wife he goes into the Kaatskill mountains, where drink puts him to sleep for twenty years.
Dame Van Winkle, Rip's shrewish wife who is disgusted by Rip's lack of energy and thrift. She dies of a stroke in the midst of a fit of anger at a Yankee peddler.
Wolf, Rip's dog, chased with his master from the house by Dame Van Winkle.
Judith Van Winkle, Rip's daughter, who fails to recognize him after twenty years. Rip is relieved when she reports that Dame Van Winkle is dead.
Hendrick Hudson, the leader of the Little Men who return once every twenty years to bowl and drink. They provide Rip with liquor.


The Story

Along the reaches of the Hudson, not far from the Kaatskill mountains, there was a small, antique Dutch town. The mountains overshadowed the town, and there were times when the good Dutch burghers could see a hood of clouds hanging over the crests of the hills.
In that small town lived a man named Rip Van Winkle. He was beloved by all his neighbors, by the children and the dogs, but at home his life was made miserable by his shrewish wife. Though he was willing to help anyone else at any odd job that might be necessary, it was impossible for him to keep his own house or farm in repair. He was descended from a good old Dutch family, but he had none of the fine Dutch traits of thrift or energy.
He spent a great deal of his time at the village inn, under the sign of King George III, until his wife chased him from there. Then he took his gun and his dog Wolf and headed for the hills. Wolf was as happy as Rip to get away from home. When Dame Van Winkle berated the two of them, Rip raised his eyes silently to heaven, but Wolf tucked his tail between his legs and slunk out of the house.
One fine day in autumn, Rip and Wolf walked high into the Kaatskills after squirrels. As evening came on, he and his dog sat down to rest awhile before starting home. When Rip started down the mountainside, he heard his name called.
A short, square little man with a grizzled beard had called Rip to help carry a keg of liquor. The little man was dressed in antique Dutch clothes. Although he accepted Rip's help in carrying the keg, he carried on no conversation. As they ascended the mountain, Rip heard noises that sounded like claps of thunder. When they reached a sort of amphitheater near the top, Rip saw a band of little men, dressed and bearded like his companion, playing ninepins. One stout old gentleman, who seemed to be the leader, wore a laced doublet and a high-crowned hat with a feather.
The little men were no more companionable than the first one had been, and Rip felt somewhat depressed. Because they seemed to enjoy the liquor from the keg, Rip tasted it a few times while they were absorbed in their game. Then he fell into a deep sleep.
On waking, he looked in vain for the stout old gentleman and his companions. When he reached for his gun, he found only a rusty flintlock. His dog did not answer his call. He tried to find the amphitheater where the little men had played, but the way was blocked by a rushing stream.
The people he saw as he walked into town were all strangers to him. Since most of them, upon looking at him, stroked their chins, Rip unconsciously stroked his and found that his beard had grown a foot long.
The town itself looked different. At first, Rip thought the liquor from the keg had addled his head, for he had a hard time finding his own house. When he did locate it at last, he found it in a state of decay. Even the sign over the inn had been changed to one carrying the name of General Washington. The men gathered under the sign talked gibberish to him, and they accused him of trying to stir up trouble by coming armed to an election. When they let him ask for his old cronies, he named men who the loungers told him had moved away, or else they had been dead these twenty years.
Finally, an eager young woman pushed through the crowd to look at Rip. Her voice started a train of thought, and he asked who she was and who her father had been. When she claimed to be Rip Van Winkle's daughter Judith, he asked one more question about her mother. Judith told him that her mother had died after breaking a blood vessel in a fit of anger at a Yankee peddler. Rip breathed more freely.
Although another old woman claimed that she recognized him, the men at the inn only winked at his story until an old man, a descendant of the village historian, vouched for Rip's tale. He assured the men that he knew for a fact from his historian ancestor that Hendrick Hudson with his crew came to the mountains every twenty years to visit the scene of their exploits, and that the old historian had seen the crew in antique Dutch garb playing at ninepins just as Rip had related.
Rip spent the rest of his life happily telling his story at the inn until everyone knew it by heart. Even now when the inhabitants of the village hear thunder in the Kaatskills, they say the Hendrick Hudson and his crew are playing ninepins, and many a henpecked husband has wished in vain for a draught of Rip Van Winkle's quieting brew.


Critical Evaluation

The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent, made Washington Irving the first American author to enjoy international fame. "Rip Van Winkle" is perhaps the best example in the collection of Irving's artistic movement away from the neoclassic cosmic interests of his earlier satirical writing toward a localized and sentimental Romanticism. In a sense, Irving's romanticism is more superficial than that of the great American Romantics such as Emerson and Рое. Irving is concerned more with capturing moods and emotions than with probing intro-spectively into metaphysical states. Even his later writing follows his early stylistic models, Addison and Goldsmith. Although he did not develop a style peculiarly his own, Irving nonetheless wrote with undeniable clarity, grace, and charm—making the "regional romance" a noteworthy and enjoyable American genre.
The author's introductory note calls Rip's adventure "A Posthumous Writing of Diedrich Knickerbocker," the imaginary historian Irving invented earlier for his A History of New York by Diedrich Knickerbocker (1809). The narrator's droll references to his own "scrupulous accuracy" and "precise truth," as well as the "confirmation" provided by Peter Vandervonk (a figure from the past parallel to the Dutchmen Rip meets in the mountains), add subtlety to the humorous claim of veracity. Nevertheless, the story clearly combines the literature of folk-fable with that of antifeminism. Rip is depicted, almost heroically, as a kind of Socrates: "a simple good-natured man," a great rationalizer, always willing to help others (consequently henpecked, because unwilling to do his own work), ever found at the inn—"a kind of perpetual club of the sages." From this ironic realism basis the story leaps into myth, with the appearance of the strange little man carrying the keg, whose sullenness somehow enhances his mysterious character and the story's naive credibility. When Rip awakens to present reality, himself now a fabulous figure from the past, he finds things much the same as before. Irving's satirical point is that political and social revolutions are superficial. Change is a myth. Like many of Irving's tales, "Rip Van Winkle" is said to be based on a common European legend. In adapting this source, however, Irving did not simply change the setting; he gave the story a distinctively American flavor. Americans are frequently characterized as optimistic, pragmatic, future-oriented; and yet as this story reveals, there is another strain in the national character. Here, even at the very beginning of American literature, there is a powerful undercurrent of nostalgia that plays against the story's ironic tone.



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