Known today as the first American writer, Washington Irving set the standard for writers to come. Born April 3, 1783 in New York City, he was the youngest of eleven. He was strongly influenced by the Dutch culture of New York. He gained an international reputation as one of the most influential writers of his time an today as well. Even though most of his stories are post Revolutionary War, his character draw many English and Dutch qualities. His father being a military man demanded a lot of Washington and let it be known when he named him after our nations first great leader.
Irving was never much of a student but not surprisingly was fond of English and literature. He was known in his family for being charming, sensitive, and creative. Successfully intergrating both European and American elements in his stories he was able to maintain a distinctive identity in his career. Washington Irving was a prolific writer. Washington was mentored by some of the world’s greatest writers. This list included Nathaniel Hawthorn, Henry Longfellow, and Edgar Allen Poe. These men helped manipulate his writings.
In his first book, “A History of New-York”, was a satire meant to poke fun at the self-importance of local history. Something that all three of his mentors did when they broke into the writing world. Irving grew up in an atmosphere full of indulgences due to an Anglican mother and Presbyterian father. Escaping college education, something his father required of all seven of his older brothers, he began immediately learning. He started writing and reading intermittently at the law. Washington lived abroad in multiple different countries from 1815 to 1832.
While living out of the United States he became fond of Dutch culture of New York. During this time he held science and reason I high regard and was praised highly for it. Affected by the travel bug and homesickness, he returned to the states in 1832 to a warm reception. However, the feeling was not mutual. Irving viewed New Englanders with mistrust and thought they were only interested in money. Dutch New Yorkers were, in his opinion, a more proper class of people than the lot of the world. It is said that “Known today by readers and writers as an American humorist, he also worked on histories and biographies.
In fact, he was much more enjoyed to write histories than all other styles”(Dillon). Although he wrote in many different ways (Western American settings, histories, biographies, satires) the common theme of this writings revolved around New York Dutch folk. Classic examples of a stereotypical Irving writing include “Rip Van Winkle”, “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow”, and “The Sketch Book”. Upon returning back to the states Irving found himself in need of a place to sleep for a night while his new house was being finished. He spent that night at his sister’s house and was unable to sleep.
Instead of going to bed he sat down and penned one of the most iconic American short stories to date. This story has had movie, book, and Television renditions and still sells in mass numbers. “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow” is a classic example of Irving using European aspects of culture in an American literature. Said of Irving “He was a prolific writer who took great delight in describing whatever interested his curious intellect”(Kellman 1). This quote showed he was not only prolific but also effective. The story follows Ichabod Cranes attempt to fall in love with Katrina van Tassel.
Crane is returning home to Connecticut to be a school teacher. Crane, greedy and ambitious, is accosted by the infamous headless horseman. Set in a satirical kind of way, Crane was never to be seen again. Although not his most famous work, his first story gave birth to a long string of success’. “Rip van Winkle” is a story about a henpecked villager wandering into the mountains, sleeping for twenty years, and returning to find a different world. Called a masterpiece by many, the story, like many of Irving’s, is based off of European myth and folklore.
Like “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow”, Irving penned the story in a one night span. A major point to the story is the change that will occur over twenty years. The small village represented by peace and wealth is turned into a place with big new homes and ‘Yankee’ occupants. It was in this story that Washington let it be known how he felt strongly against the common New Englander. Another theme that comes up in the story is financial failure. “The Sketch Book” is a jumble of short pieces that reflect an authors religious preferences in American Literature. Published in 1819, it was an instant best seller.
Known for his fantastic use of characters it was said “Irving’s use of the character ‘Geoffery Crayon’ was a masterstroke”(Moss). The book sold mass copies in both America and in Europe, where he had lived abroad. Evaluating another use of characters in Irving’s stories, brings the Dutch qualities out. “Bones is a gruff character who is a pre-revolution Dutchman. He, like many other Dutch, is subject to storytelling, exaggeration, and fighting”(Britanica). This is what the common character for Irving is because he was fascinated by the way these people lived.
Another trait to Irving’s stories is leaving the reader not knowing what happened. He lets the reader decide what Cranes fate turns out to be. The thought is that he was run out of town and made a large joke of by the towns people. Even though Irving himself did not believe in the supernatural, many of his stories featured that. For example, he made frequent use of witches, ghosts, and goblins, Most famous of all the super natural today was the headless horseman. “Today the headless horseman gets as much facetime in books and on TV than its creator ever got in his hay day”(Washington).
In sum, Irving was prolific in his writings and managed to subtly and up front let his opinions out. He showed his distain for the common New England man and his passion for the Dutch for being a hard working class of people. Today the name does not get recognition like his stories do but Irving managed to make his mark fairly heavy on todays American literature. Successfully intergrating both European and American elements in his stories he was able to maintain a distinctive identity in his career. Washington Irving passion for Dutch culture carried his passion to write and that a success.