The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Washington Irving
The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.INTRODUCTION
(Has also written under the pseudonyms Geoffrey Crayon, Diedrich Knickerbocker, Fray Antonio Agapida, Launcelot Langstaff, and Jonathan Oldstyle) American short story writer, essayist, biographer, and historian.
The following entry presents criticism on Irving's two volume collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819-1820) through 2000.
Though the title of Irving's The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. is not widely known by contemporary audiences, the prose collection contains two of the most iconic and famous American short stories of all time—"Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." The Sketch Book is indisputably Irving's most important and lasting work. The volume was an instant and immense popular success and solidified Irving's reputation in Europe as an American literary artist, a sobriquet that many Europeans of the era had viewed as a contradiction. Based on European folktales, "Rip Van Winkle" and "Sleepy Hollow" present stories of men who find their lives transformed by supernatural forces. Both tales have became canonical works of children's literature, inspiring numerous illustrated editions as well as film, stage, and television adaptations.
PLOT AND MAJOR CHARACTERS
Though The Sketch Book consists of seven "sketches"—ranging from fictional prose to nonfiction criticism—"Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" are the collection's two best known works and the only two pieces to receive widespread critical and popular attention. "Rip Van Winkle" is written in the form of a paper composed by "Diedrich Knickerbocker," one of Irving's recurring narrators. Knickerbocker relates the plot, claiming that he has heard tales of supernatural events in Dutch settlements in the Catskill Mountains. One of those tales is the story of Rip Van Winkle, a congenial, though notoriously lazy peasant living outside of the Catskills in the 1750s. Tormented by his shrewish wife, Rip neglects his farm and family for the pleasures of alcohol and wandering in the forest, accompanied by his loyal dog, Wolf. One day, Rip and Wolf journey high into the Catskills—dubbed the "fairy mountains" early in the text. As evening approaches, Rip encounters a little old man, dressed in old-fashioned Dutch garb, who asks for Rip's help in carrying a keg of liquor. They come upon a party of eccentric elderly men playing ninepins—based on Henry Hudson and his men—and Rip drinks heavily from the keg. He falls into a deep sleep and awakens transformed—he appears to have aged decades overnight. Returning to the inhabited world, Rip discovers that he has, in fact, slept for over twenty years, and the world he once knew has changed greatly. He slept through the American Revolution—a great surprise for the British Loyalist Rip—his wife is now dead, and the townspeople barely remember him. His tale of wonder is met with mixed responses from the community. Did Rip really sleep in the mountains for years, or has he invented this bizarre account merely as a subterfuge for remaining free from responsibility and obligation?
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is also narrated by Knickerbocker and again utilizes a supernatural occurrence as its driving plot device, featuring a demonic "Headless Horseman" who preys on an isolated village. The story revolves around Ichabod Crane, a slight, bookish schoolmaster, who is viewed as an outsider in the community. Ichabod becomes enamoured with Katrina Van Tassel, the heiress to a vast, wealthy farm. This enrages Katrina's other suitor, the brutish and masculine Abraham Van Brunt—or "Brom Bones"—who begins terrorizing the gullible and nervous Ichabod with tales of the ghostly Horseman. Ichabod, an expert in supernatural lore, leaves the Van Tassel farm, terrified of encountering the Horseman. As Ichabod makes his way home, he senses a presence following him through the woods. Ichabod flees, believing the Horseman is pursuing him, and a fantastic chase ensues. Eventually, it is revealed that Brom is playing a prank on Ichabod, using the schoolteacher's sensitivity and imagination to chase him out of town. In an epilogue, the reader learns that Ichabod has made a success of himself in the city—an environment more suited to his artistic personality. There are several other stories and essays in The Sketch Book—including "The Spectre Bridegroom" "The Author's Account of Himself," and "The Voyage," among others—but none of them have been able to rival "Rip Van Winkle" and "Sleepy Hollow" for their continuing impact on popular culture and the American literary tradition.
"Rip Van Winkle" was derived from Irving's study of German literature, specifically the German folk tale "Peter Klaus," causing some critics of the era to accuse the author of plagiarism. Irving translates the story to American soil and uses it to exemplify the differences between America's agrarian past—before the Revolutionary War—and the new independence of Jeffersonian democracy. Rip appears content in his carefree lifestyle, but he accomplishes nothing and holds no influence. The post-Revolution townsfolk have gained their freedom and independence, though to Rip, they appear chaotic and beleaguered. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is also of German origin, but Irving utilizes the tale to illustrate the conflict between civilization—or progress—and the idyll of the New Eden in America. Irving pits the sensitive artist figure against Sleepy Hollow's practical minded, progressive society, embodying the popular motif of the Yankee versus the Backwoodsman. Both stories also subvert the archetype of the traditional heroic protagonist in American literature. Rip is a negligent fool, though Irving makes his lack of responsibility and ambition seem charismatic and appealing. Ichabod embodies none of the characteristics common to literary heroes—strength, confidence, courage, etc.—but the reader finds him more sympathetic than the oafish Brom Bones. However, some literary scholars have countered the standard readings of the protagonists in "Van Winkle" and "Sleepy Hollow." For example, Albert J. von Frank has asserted that Ichabod Crane should be viewed as the antagonist of "Sleepy Hollow" because he forces a sense of order and empiricism on the idyllic agrarian community. Irving also uses both stories to comment on the power of storytelling—"Van Winkle" and "Sleepy Hollow" are both presented as stories told by Diedrich Knickerbocker. In "Van Winkle," Rip—a notorious liar—awakens to find himself in a new world, though many townspeople refuse to believe his tale of supernatural slumber. The story concludes with Rip reduced to a local oddity, spinning yarns about America's past. Ichabod's steadfast belief in the local legends and myths of the Headless Horseman make him terrified of his surroundings, a fear that Brom exploits to chase the schoolmaster out of town. With "Van Winkle" and "Sleepy Hollow," Irving has created two uniquely American legends, which continue to attract new critical readings and recontextualizations as time progresses.
William Makepeace Thackeray called Irving "the first ambassador whom the New World of Letters sent to the Old," and The Sketch Book has remained as Irving's most recognized and applauded work. Critics have praised Irving's skillful reinterpretation of European legends in "Rip Van Winkle" and "Sleepy Hollow," noting that Rip and Ichabod Crane almost immediately became recognized as iconic American literary characters. Irving's use of supernatural elements in The Sketch Book has also been commended, with reviewers lauding the author's ambivalent and realistic approach to fantastic situations. Scholars have also complimented Irving for his astute social commentary in "Van Winkle" and "Sleepy Hollow," arguing that Irving uses his unusual protagonists to highlight the clash of divergent cultures—Loyalist versus the Revolutionary, Yankee versus the Backwoodsman. Donald R. Anderson has commented on the enduring "American-ness" of "Rip Van Winkle" and "Sleepy Hollow," stating "[t]hat Rip Van Winkle became an almost instant cultural icon for an emerging American nation at the time of his appearance in 1819 is testimony to what Washington Irving suggests was happening and would continue to happen within his nation's psyche: the creation of anchorages in the past, which, while perceptually at odds with idealized freedom, is an inevitability whose primary danger lies in our protective need to ignore the actualities, the particularizations, of freedom."
Salmagundi; or, the Whim-Whams and Opinions ofLauncelot Langstaff, Esq. & Others. 2 vols. [with William Irving and James Kirke Paulding] (essays and short stories) 1807-1808; revised edition, 1814; second revision, 1824
Diedrich Knickerbocker's History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty: Containing among Many Surprising and Curious Matters, the Unutterable Ponderings of Walter the Doubter, the Disasterous Projects of William the Testy, and the Chivalric Achievements of Peter the Headstrong, the Three Dutch Governors of New Amsterdam; Being the Only Authentic History of the Times That Ever Hath Been, or Ever Will Be Published. 2 vols. [as Diedrich Knickerbocker] (satirical history) 1809; revised edition, 1812
*The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. 2 vols. [as Geoffrey Crayon] (essays and short stories) 1819-1820; revised edition, 1820; second revision, 1823
Bracebridge Hall, or the Humorists: A Medley. 2 vols. [as Geoffrey Crayon] (essays and short stories) 1822
Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle, Gent. (letters) 1824
Tales of a Traveller. 2 vols. [as Geoffrey Crayon] (essays and short stories) 1824
†The Miscellaneous Works of Oliver Goldsmith, with an Account of His Life and Writings. 4 vols. (biography) 1825
A History of the Life and Voyages of ChristopherColumbus. 4 vols. (biography) 1828
A Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada. 2 vols. [as Fray Antonio Agapida] (satirical history) 1829
Voyages and Discoveries of the Companions of Columbus (biography) 1831
The Alhambra. 2 vols. [as Geoffrey Crayon] (essays and short stories) 1832; revised as The Alhambra: A Series of Sketches of the Moors and Spaniards by the Author of "The Sketch Book," 1836
Legends of the Conquest of Spain (essays) 1835
A Tour on the Prairies [as Geoffrey Crayon] (essays and short stories) 1835
Astoria, or, Enterprise beyond the Rocky Mountains. 3 vols. (essays and short stories) 1836
Adventures of Captain Bonneville, or, Scenes beyond the Rocky Mountains of the Far West. 3 vols. (essays and short stories) 1837
Mahomet and His Successors (biography) 1850
Chronicles of Wolfert's Roost and Other Papers (essays and short stories) 1855
Life of George Washington. 5 vols. (biography) 1855-1859
Spanish Papers and Other Miscellanies, HithertoUnpublished or Uncollected. 2 vols. [edited by Pierre M. Irving] (essays, letters, and prose) 1866
Journals and Notebooks. 5 vols. [edited by Nathalia Wright, Walter A. Reichart, Lillian Schlissel, Wayne R. Kime, and Andrew B. Myers] (essays, journals, and prose) 1969-1985
The Complete Works of Washington Irving. 30 vols. [edited by Richard Dilworth Rust and others] (essays, short stories, letters, journals, and biographies) 1969-1988
*the sketch book of geoffrey crayon, gent. was originally published in seven parts under the pseudonym "geoffrey crayon." the stories "rip van winkle" and "the legend of sleepy hollow" have been published separately on multiple occasions.
†this work was revised and republished as the life of oliver goldsmith, with selections from his writings in 1840.
Henry Brevoort, Jr. (review date 26 June 1819)
SOURCE: Brevoort, Jr., Henry. Review of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.: Volume One, by Washington Irving. In Critical Essays on Washington Irving, edited by Ralph M. Aderman, pp. 46-7. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall and Co., 1990.
[In the following review, which originally appeared in the June 26, 1819, edition of the New-York Evening Post, Brevoort commends Irving's achievement with The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., drawing particular attention to the "vividness" and "graceful ease" of "Rip Van Winkle."]
[The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. ] is a new production said to be from the elegant and racy pen of Washington Irving, Esq. The first number contains five distinct sketches, viz: a sketch of Mr. Crayon; a sketch of a sea voyage; a sketch of Roscoe, the historian; a sketch of a wife; and a sketch of low life in an inland Low-Dutch village, as it appeared some sixty or eighty years ago, and which is thrown into the form of a story, entitled "Rip Van Winkle." The graces of style; the rich, warm tone of benevolent feeling; the freely-flowing vein of hearty and happy humour, and the fine-eyed spirit of observation, sustained by an enlightened understanding and regulated by a perception of fitness—a tact—wonderfully quick and sure, for which Mr. Irving has been heretofore so much distinguished, are all exhibited anew in theSketch Book, with freshened beauty and added charms. There are few pieces of composition in the language, of similar design, equal to the account of Roscoe: it is a just and noble-spirited eulogium, united with a well discriminated, rapid, sketchy delineation of the character of that elegant historian, that does equal honor to the subject and the writer. The "Wife" is beautifully pathetic, and in these times of commercial disasters will be read with interest, and, it is to be hoped, with benefit, by many. But "Rip Van Winkle" is the masterpiece. For that comic spirit which is without any infusion of gall, which delights in what is ludicrous rather than ridiculous, (for its laughter is not mixed with contempt,) which seeks its gratification in the eccentricities of a simple, unrefined state of society, rather than in the vicious follies of artificial life; for the vividness and truth, with which Rip's character is drawn, and the state of society in the village where he lived, is depicted; and for the graceful ease with which it is told, the story of Rip Van Winkle has few competitors. There appears, also, to be a design to exhibit the contrast between the old provincial times, and the state of things subsequent to the American revolution.
Possibly the man, who after reading Paradise Lost, said, with a look and tone of the most skeptical sagacity, that he did not believe half of it, might look over these sketches with indifference; but all those who are not yet sublimed with pure intellect, nor become inveterately wise; who still retain a feeling of human infirmities, and a relish for nature, will be well-pleased with them; and will probably wait, with pleasant anticipations, for the remaining contents of Mr. Crayon's portfolio.
The above is furnished by a literary friend, whose judgment on such subjects, generally speaking, I respect—therefore I have given it a place as it stands. But after perusing the work myself, I am compelled to say that I cannot concur in opinion with him as to the last sketch, that of "Rip Van Winkle." With much elegance of manner, we think probability however, should not be wholly overlooked. The tale of the Wife is undoubtedly the author's happiest effort. We wish the work every possible success.
As an elegant and accurate piece of typography, (with the single exception, lay for lie,) it reflects great credit on the American press; and we hope the publication will meet with the encouragement it merits.
Henry Brevoort, Jr. (review date 3 August 1819)
SOURCE: Brevoort, Jr., Henry. Review of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.: Volume Two, by Washington Irving. In Critical Essays on Washington Irving edited by Ralph M. Aderman, pp. 47-9. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall and Co., 1990.
[In the following excerpt, which originally appeared in the August 3, 1819, edition of the New-York Evening Post, Brevoort commends Irving's "original and conciliating" perspective in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.]
The second number [ofThe Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. ] has just been published: it contains sketches of "English Writers on America," —"Rural Life in England," —"The Broken Heart," —and, "The Art of Book-Making."
In the first article, the subject of our social relations with England is dispassionately stated, and exhibited in many original and conciliating points of view. The author exposes the impolicy of England in repressing our kindred sympathies by her haughty tone of superiority; nor has he overlooked the undue importance that we attach to the refuted calumnies and paltry insults of her angry writers. England, with all her faults, is still the country that we regard with feelings of deepest interest: in her, we trace the original features of our national and individual character: from her centuries of experience, we have derived the deep foundations of our civil liberty, and social institutions; by contemplating the perfection to which she has advanced all the arts of civilization, we catch a glimpse of what we are destined to become—But these affinities, instead of binding us in a friendly alliance of kind offices, seem destined to engender an eternal collision in all the objects and pursuits that constitute the pride and ambition of two powerful and high-spirited nations—It is the leading object of our author, to soften the bitter spirit of contempt and recrimination, which has so frequently sullied the literature of both countries, and nearly destroyed those courtesies that would otherwise have existed between them.
"Rural Life in England," is an exquisitely finished sketch. The sensibilities of the author appear to have been fully awakened by those picturesque aspects of moral and external beauty peculiar to old and highly-cultivated countries. His delineations breathe the freshness and the fragrance of a summer's shower. The characteristic features of rural life in England rise distinctly to our view, with nearly the force and reality of the scene itself.
The sketches entitled, "The Broken Heart," and "The Art of Book-Making," are specimens of that happy facility of the writer, in varying the subject and the style of his compositions—But we turn from their obvious merits, to say a word in relation to the author and his immediate designs. We think Mr. Irving has conceived the plan of his work, with the happiest adaptation to his peculiar turn of mind, which is thus left at liberty, to act upon a wide range of subjects, "sometimes treating of scenes before him, sometimes of others purely imaginary, and sometimes wandering back with his recollections to his native country." For ourselves, we would cheerfully participate in all his wanderings, either abroad or at home, throughout every varying scene of human existence, which shall call forth the richness of his humour, or excite the deep pathos of his feelings. In these dispositions, we believe his admirers heartily concur; and he may take our assurance, that he has already accomplished his designs beyond the diffidence of his hopes. His countrymen hail his reappearance as a writer, with the endearing cordiality of one, who had been too long absent, but has unexpectedly returned, with sympathies still tenderly linked to his native land.
The literary ambition of Mr. I. aims simply at a flute accompaniment, in our national concert of authors, leaving to the more aspiring the management of the louder instruments. We gladly perceive that he never suffers himself to be allured from his natural character, by a pompous display of his subject, or by an attempt to plunge his readers into the unfathomable depths of learning and research. We wish to mark this integrity of design, exclusively for the benefit of certain Linnean critics, who have been puzzled in defining the object of his Sketches, and of classing them with any of the popular elegies of the day. Tradition affirms, that one of the notable tragedies of Sophocles, was returned by a geometer, with the appalling demand of what it was intended to demonstrate?—Mr. I. stands somewhat in this awkward predicament, although his friends might plead the examples of Addison, Goldsmith and Mackenzie, to countenance the humility of his ambition.—But truly we live in an age which has brought down science from her sublime heights, to dwell in highways and market places. Amidst the solemn fopperies of the would be wise, it is indeed a refreshing indulgence to follow an author in his careless rambles through the lower regions of Parnassus. We reverence the cause of true science; nor would we be understood to scoff at its unaffected votaries; but no one knows, who has not essayed the task, how cheaply an author may decorate his pages with the scattered fragments of learning, lying so invitingly at his mercy, in the multitudinous transactions and encyclopedias of our times. Our author has found out the art of book-making; he has traced to their fountain head, those muddy rills of knowledge that sometimes spread themselves even in America. It is not impossible, therefore, that in the future numbers of his work, he may avoid the labor of writing from the resources of his own mind, by compiling the present state of the Catholic question—the vast results of polar expeditions; or, peradventure, strike out some new geological hypothesis which shall reject the vulgar agency of fire or water. In such ambitious speculations, we fear, the admirers of his fine genius, might seek in vain for his sportive humor; his nice discrimination of character; his romantic associations of thought and language; his pure and affecting morality, and all the nameless graces of a style, so appropriate to the captivating path of literature he has chosen to pursue.
Francis Jeffrey (review date August 1820)
SOURCE: Jeffrey, Francis. Review of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., by Washington Irving. In Critical Essays on Washington Irving, edited by Ralph M. Aderman, pp. 52-5. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall and Co., 1990.
[In the following review, which originally appeared in the August 1820 edition of the Edinburgh Review, Jeffrey argues that The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. functions as America's "first purely literary production."]
Though [The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. ] is a very pleasing book in itself, and displays no ordinary reach of thought and elegance of fancy, it is not exactly on that account that we are now tempted to notice it as a very remarkable publication,—and to predict that it will form an era in the literature of the nation to which it belongs. It is the work of an American, entirely bred and trained in that country—originally published within its territory—and, as we understand, very extensively circulated, and very much admired among its natives. Now, the most remarkable thing in a work so circumstanced certainly is, that it should be written throughout with the greatest care and accuracy, and worked up to great purity and beauty of diction, on the model of the most elegant and polished of our native writers. It is the first American work, we rather think, of any description, but certainly the first purely literary production, to which we could give this praise; and we hope and trust that we may hail it as the harbinger of a purer and juster taste—the foundation of a chaster and better school, for the writers of that great and intelligent country. Its genius, as we have frequently observed, has not hitherto been much turned to letters; and, what it has produced in that department, has been defective in taste certainly rather than in talent. The appearance of a few such works as the present will go far to wipe off this reproach also; and we cordially hope that this author's merited success, both at home and abroad, will stimulate his countrymen to copy the methods by which he has attained it; and that they will submit to receive, from the example of their ingenious compatriot, that lesson which the precepts of strangers do not seem hitherto have effectually inculcated.
But though it is primarily for its style and composition that we are induced to notice this book, it would be quite unjust to the author not to add, that he deserves very high commendation for its more substantial qualities; and that we have seldom seen a work that gave us a more pleasing impression of the writer's character, or a more favourable one of his judgment and taste. There is a tone of fairness and indulgence—and of gentleness and philanthropy so unaffectedly diffused through the whole work, and tempering and harmonizing so gracefully, both with its pensive and its gayer humours, as to disarm all ordinarily good-natured critics of their asperity, and to secure to the author, from all worthy readers, the same candour and kindness of which he sets so laudable an example. The want is of force and originality in the reasoning and speculative parts, and of boldness and incident in the inventive:—though the place of these more commanding qualities is not ill supplied by great liberality and sound sense, and by a very considerable vein of humour, and no ordinary grace and tenderness of fancy. The manner perhaps throughout is more attended to than the matter; and the care necessary to maintain the rythm [sic] and polish of the sentences, has sometimes interfered with the force of the reasoning, or limited and impoverished the illustrations they might otherwise have supplied.
We have forgotten all this time to inform our readers, that the publication consists of a series or collection of detached essays and tales of various descriptions—originally published apart, in the form of a periodical miscellany, for the instruction and delight of America—and now collected into two volumes for the refreshment of the English public. The English writers whom the author has chiefly copied, are Addison and Goldsmith, in the humorous and discursive parts—and our own excellent Mackenzie, in the more soft and pathetic. In their highest and most characteristic merits, we do not mean to say that he has equalled any of his originals, or even to deny that he has occasionally caricatured their defects. But the resemblance is near enough to be highly creditable to any living author; and there is sometimes a compass of reasoning which his originals have rarely attained. . . .
It is consolatory to the genuine friends of mankind—to the friends of peace and liberty and reason—to find such sentiments [as those expressed in "English Writers on America" ] gaining ground in the world; and, above all, to find them inculcated with so much warmth and ability by a writer of that country which has had the strongest provocation to disown them, and whose support of them is, at the present moment, by far the most important. We have already pledged ourselves to do what in us lies to promote the same good cause;—and if our labours are only seconded in America with a portion of the zeal and eloquence which is here employed in their behalf, we have little doubt of seeing them ultimately crowned with success. It is impossible, however, in the mean time, to disguise that much more depends upon the efforts of the American writers, than upon ours; both because they have naturally the most weight with the party who is chiefly to be conciliated, and because their reasonings are not repelled by that outrageous spirit of party which leads no small numbers among us at the present moment, to reject and vilify whatever is recommended by those who are generally opposed to their plans of domestic policy. . . .
In justice to the work before us, however, we should say, that a very small proportion of its contents relates either to politics, or to subjects at all connected with America. There is a "Legend of Sleepy Hollow," which is an excellent pendant to "Rip Van Winkle" ; and there are two or three other papers, the localities of which are Transatlantic. But out of the thirty-five pieces which the book contains, there are not more than six or seven that have this character. The rest relate entirely to England; and consist of sketches of its manners, its scenery, and its characters, drawn with a fine and friendly hand—and remarks on its literature and peculiarities, at which it would be difficult for any rational creature to be offended. . . .
We believe that we have now done enough for the courteous and ingenious stranger whom we are ambitious of introducing to the notice of our readers. It is probable, indeed, that many of them have become acquainted with him already; as we have found the book in the hands of most of those to whom we have thought of mentioning it, and observe that the author, in the close of his last volume, speaks in very grateful terms of the encouragement he has received. We are heartily glad of it, both for his sake and for that of literature in general. There is a great deal too much contention and acrimony in most modern publications; and because it has unfortunately been found impossible to discuss practical questions of great interest without some degree of heat and personality, it has become too much the prevailing opinion, that these are necessary accompaniments to all powerful or energetic discussion, and that no work is likely to be well received by the public, or to make a strong impression, which does not abound in them. The success of such a work as this before us, may tend to correct this prejudice, and teach our authors that gentleness and amenity are qualities quite as attractive as violence and impertinence; and that truth is not less weighty, nor reason less persuasive, although not ushered in by exaggerations, and backed by defiance.
Terence Martin (essay date 1959)
SOURCE: Martin, Terence. "Rip, Ichabod, and the American Imagination." In A Century of Commentary of the Works of Washington Irving, edited by Andrew B. Myers, pp. 331-42. Tarrytown, N.Y.: Sleepy Hollow Restorations, 1976.
[In the following essay, originally published in the 1959 edition of American Literature, Martin examines Irving's cultural and historical influences, commenting that the stories of Rip Van Winkle and Ichabod Crane both signify "the inadequacy of imaginative endeavor."]
To place the work of Washington Irving in its cultural matrix—and to view it as literature within that matrix—is to gain a particular insight into the working of the creative imagination in a particular period in our past. As literature, as, thus, a unique kind of cultural expression, Irving's tales and sketches allow us to see the manner in which attitudes, assumptions, and values were imaged in and by the creative act. We come to know better the interrelationship of the tales and the culture out of which they come by catching ideas going into a kind of dramatic action given its particular definition by the distinctive and formal quality of literary expression.
Let us first recall briefly several aspects of Irving's society. Obviously, Irving's America (as R. W. B. Lewis has reminded us in The American Adam) was a new nation which saw itself, fresh and innocent, as emancipated from history; concomitantly, this new nation desired to elicit confidence from within and without by assuming an immediate adulthood in the family of nations. The United States was thus a new but self-consciously adult nation: "The old people in a new world, the new people made out of the old," as Gertrude Stein remarks; "an old race though a young nation," observed Charles Astor Bristed in 1850.1 Because hope for the future entailed and fed on responsibility and stability in the present, a belief both in progress and practical conservatism sustained this anomalous self-image.
The conservative impulse of America generated by the desire for immediate adulthood quite naturally had its effect on the working of the creative imagination; the writer, as we know, worked in the context of a pervading mistrust of the imagination. Especially in the adverse criticism of fiction and the novel, which came from pulpits, commencement addresses, and at times from writers themselves, do we sense the suspicion of the imagination which the writer might at once confront and share. One example of this kind of criticism may serve to illustrate the seriousness of the problem and to set the terms of our argument. In 1810 the Reverend James Gray, a trustee of the Philadelphia Academy for Young Ladies, delivered an address on "Female Education" to a large convocation of students and friends. After soberly examining the effects of novel reading, Gray returns a powerful indictment against fiction. More generous and more penetrating than most of his contemporary critics, he concedes that during the "very transient" period of childhood one might legitimately take an interest in fiction, for "the mind is then itself the region of fiction, of hopes and fears, of plans and projects, far beyond the narrow limits of sober reality." Childhood is the time for "ghosts, goblins, and enchanted castles," for the indulgence of fancy. But when one matures he must put away the things of the child and call for "more substantial food"; men and women, states Gray, "demand fact and doctrine" as the natural course of things. The adult must assume his place in the actual, and practical, world.2
Such an argument constitutes an American version of the theory that poetry and art belong properly to primitive, that is, culturally childish, societies, a theory given much attention by the Anglo-European eighteenth century. Thomas Blackwell, John Robert Scott, and Hugh Blair—among others—had articulated this idea in England and Scotland, and William Hazlitt would employ it later in his essay "Why the Arts are Not Progressive."3 These men saw great art as of the stuff of primitive society; one sign of a society's maturity was that it no longer offered conditions conducive to the creation of great art. The major function of this aesthetic primitivism in eighteenth-century England was to explain why no great art was being created and to celebrate the progress away from primitivism. In America the idea had a similar function, with a larger insistence on the concomitant fact of cultural adulthood. But a more specifically American use of the idea was the attempt to insist on personal adulthood by equating the imaginative and the childish. Childhood, says Gray, is the time for imaginative indulgence; adulthood brings with it a demand for fact and doctrine. That he sees progression here is clear; the adult perforce grows away from "the region of fiction" to a higher and better reality. Likewise, a childish (primitive) society might legitimately take an interest in things imaginative; such a society, however, was precisely what America wanted not to be. And the proof and the price of cultural adulthood was the willing renunciation or at least containment of the imaginative order. Gray admits that he is as "liberal" on the matter as he can afford to be: he is concessive toward childhood, but he celebrates adulthood; he is concessive toward fancy, but he celebrates fact and doctrine; he is concessive toward the youthful mind as the region of fiction, but he celebrates the adult demand for "more substantial food." In the terms of Gray's argument, representative rather than original, only a culturally childish America could provide the proper nourishment for fiction.
Gray's consideration of fiction and responsibility explains more fully why America wished to assume an immediate adult status—there was simply no time for childhood. As a writer in the Edinburgh Review put it in 1829: "No ghost . . . was ever seen in North America. They do not walk in broad day; and the night of ignorance and superstition which favours their appearance was long past" before the United States came into being.4 Conservative, self-consciously adult, America had no place for ghosts and hobgoblins; as a new nation it did not feel that it could afford to indulge its imagination. The exigencies of the adult (better) world were all too apparent.
But if America did not want to be very young, neither of course did it want to be very old. As a nation which lacked a past, which was beginning history again in a better way, America had to shrug off as it were the implications of history; antiquity, mystery, evil—all products of the process of history—were not a substantial part of the American vision. From one point of view (shared by Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and others) this was a good thing: getting rid of the past meant living more fully in the promise of the present. From another point of view, however, the lack of a past had its lamentable side: the result was a cultural thinness and bleakness which left little for the writer to work with. Henry James's disconcerting catalogue of what America lacked in Hawthorne's time is well known.5 But Hawthorne, too, experienced cultural deficiencies which he applauded as a citizen and lamented as a writer. Imaginatively cramped by the lack of a "poetic or fairy precinct" in America, he explains, in his preface to The Marble Faun, the difficulty of writing in the "broad and simple daylight" that "happily" prevails in the United States, with no shadow, antiquity, or mystery to mitigate the necessary insistence on actualities.
For Hawthorne, romance and poetry implied an atmosphere of ruin. That he could not write romance easily about America is significant, measuring his hope in an America free from the consequences of historic process. Romance would not thus seem to belong by nature to America. But with the primitive condition and what it appeared to offer effectively and unequivocally ruled out by the desiderata of American society, a number of our early writers (Charles Brockden Brown, Irving, Poe, and Hawthorne among them) did attempt to create an art based at least implicitly on an aesthetic of age or shadow. They pretended shadow, ruin, decay as prerequisites of imaginative creation; at times they wrote as if America were very old. In view of the American self-image it was a massive pretense. But it produced a significant body of fiction which reflected the tension between what America wanted to be and what these writers had to pretend it to be.
The work of Washington Irving reflects significantly the quality of this tension between imaginative endeavor and cultural tendency. InBracebridge Hall (1822), Irving tells us that he had experienced England with "the delightful freshness of a child," but that he was "a grown-up child." He admits in [The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. ] (1819-1820) that the scenic splendor of America has failed to stimulate him imaginatively; in Europe are "all the charms of storied and poetical association." America is filled with youthful promise, but Europe is rich "in the accumulated treasures of age." He longs for a meditative antiquity, for the "shadowy grandeurs of the past," in place of the "commonplace realities of the present." Irving's most profoundly felt imaginative need was to escape from such "commonplace realities," from—in Hawthorne's phrase—the American insistence on actualities. InBracebridge Hall he lamented that America "unfortunately cannot boast of a single ruin." Yet in Europe he failed to get in touch with the essentials of any older culture and remained, as Stanley Williams terms him, "a young man with slender knowledge of the past," one who loved "scraps of culture."6 The very vagueness of Irving's conception of the past served his artistic temperament; he required for imaginative creation, not the actuality but the "shadowy grandeurs" of the past.
Although (and because) they are known to all, "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" will repay a close analysis and reveal Irving's mode of literary creation in such a culture. Early in his tale of Rip, Irving speaks of the "magical hues and shapes" of the Kaatskill mountains; next he calls them "fairy mountains." The terms "magical" and "fairy," apparently incidental, adjectively subordinate, invite the reader away from the "commonplace realities of the present" to a region of greater imaginative latitude. In beginning his account of Rip's famous adventure, Irving constructs his scene so as literally to remove it from "broad and simple daylight." Rip gazes into a wild and lonely mountain glen which is "scarcely lighted by the reflected rays of the setting sun." Out of this shadowy glen, the American equivalent for the "shadowy grandeurs" of the past, Rip hears a voice calling his name and meets a "strange" figure in antique Dutch dress. In silence and wonder Rip helps the man carry a keg of liquor up a wild mountain: "there was something strange and incomprehensible about the unknown, that inspired awe and checked familiarity." The reader is now, with Rip, in a realm of the strange and unknown that inspires awe and checks familiarity. Only after such careful preparation, after guiding us away from the commonplace practicality of everyday life, does Irving introduce, in four brief paragraphs, the purely marvelous element of the story—the company playing ninepins. At the end of these paragraphs Rip falls into a sleep; when he awakens—on a "bright sunny morning," with the "birds hopping and twittering among the bushes"—we are back in the world of actuality. Rip returns to the village to find not only the people but "the very character of the people" changed.
Irving has taken Rip out of the context of everyday reality, but then has deliberately put him back in it. The tale, in its beginning and end, has historical location. And when Rip returns at the end of the tale he finds a metamorphosed community, no longer even the same country. The image of George Washington—the father of a new country—has replaced that of George III on the sign at the inn, and Rip has no way of orienting himself in terms of this new father image. Irving has had Rip sleep through the American Revolution, through what we might call the birth pangs of our country, and return to a "busy, bustling, disputatious," self-consciously adult United States of America. There his uncompetitive spirit, his predisposition to idleness, his inclination to imaginative indulgence are badly out of place; he is no more at home than he was with Dame Van Winkle, who prefigured the bustling, disputatious tone of this new world, though she at least knew him. Irving does not exact the full penalty from Rip; he allows him to settle in a corner of this world, but with a function extremely limited and marginal. Nonetheless, the tale dramatizes Rip's loss of identity, and, by inference, the loss of identity of the imaginative function. Rip's miraculous sleep has left him ignorant of the American Revolution—the magical, the marvelous, the imaginative, and the indolent have had no place in the founding of the new republic. And when these qualities return in the person of an antique but childlike man, there arises a sense of embarrassment overcome only when he is known to be harmless, one who will not interfere.
In "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" Irving goes to even greater lengths in creating a never-never land to contain his tale: "a drowsy, dramy influence" hangs over the land and pervades the atmosphere; the people have trances and visions and entertain marvelous beliefs. Haunted spots and "twilight superstitions" abound in the neighborhood. All of this of course prepares for the bold reference to the Headless Horseman. And, as if to urge a spirit of enchantment upon his readers, Irving states that even visitors to Sleepy Hollow become bewitched: inhaling the "witching influence" of the air, they begin to "grow imaginative, to dream dreams, and see apparitions." The quotation holds the key to Irving's method of literary creation: the wide-awake reader, dwelling in the "broad and simple daylight" of the actual world, is invited to enter Irving's sleepy region (Gray's "region of fiction"), to dream there under the bewitching influence of fictional apparitions.
Irving's introduction of Ichabod Crane defines a particular problem of the early American writer. "In this by-place of nature," he writes, "there abode, in a remote period of American history, that is to say, some thirty years since, a worthy wight of the name of Ichabod Crane." The archaic substantive wight serves to emphasize the incongruity of the introduction; only in the America of the time could a remote period of history be defined as thirty years. That Irving could speak ironically about the poverty of the past in America did not make it less a fact for him to deal with. Without a large, commonly shared, and hence more than personal past to work with and out of, the writer himself had to contain and be the measure of antiquity.
Ichabod Crane personifies the protagonist as comic figure. "His appetite for the marvelous, and his powers of digesting it, were . . . extraordinary; and both had been increased by his residence in this spellbound region. No tale was too gross or monstrous for his capacious swallow." Throughout the tale Irving plays on the idea of Ichabod's tremendous appetite and his "capacious swallow." But not only does this appetite pertain to the marvelous: Ichabod is a "huge feeder"; he contemplates with longing the largesse of the Van Tassel farm; the very prospect of winning the hand of Katrina comes to him in terms of a superabundance of food. In a manifold sense he yearns to swallow the world and thereby realize an oral heaven. By fitting the notion of gullibility into the dominant metaphor of Ichabod's oral preoccupation, Irving emphasizes the childlike quality of his protagonist. Ichabod can swallow and digest anything; therefore he is always and increasingly gullible. But growing up involves learning what not to swallow, in every sense of the word. Ichabod has failed utterly to learn this first lesson in the practical knowledge of survival precisely because of his extreme addiction to the imagination. Irving couples the oral stage and imaginative indulgence; both signify childhood. There is, moreover, a price to be paid for continuing in childhood. In our natural laughter at the story, we often forget that Ichabod goes down to defeat because he is overimaginative. For he loses all chance for the double prize of Katrina and the wealth of the Van Tassel farm when, terrified by his excessive imagination, he is literally run out of the region by Brom Bones impersonating the Headless Horseman. Brom Bones—the scoffer at superstition, who boasts that he has ridden a winning race against the Headless Horseman—triumphs, marries Katrina, and is the victor of the tale. It is a victory for common sense and hard-headed practicality over imaginative indulgence.
In each of these tales Irving has created his setting as a writer of romance; he overcomes the difficulty of creating imaginatively in the "broad and simple daylight" of his America by positing shadow, mystery, superstition. He writes, in short, as if his settings had antiquity, as if America had a past. Into each tale, however, he introduces a childlike protagonist, whom we may recognize as primitive if we allow for the fact that Irving would share the disbelief in contemporary primitivism and would create such a character out of that disbelief. Rip Van Winkle, with his "insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor," delights in playing with children, and they in turn love him; he is a favorite among the village wives; not a dog in the neighborhood will bark at him. Ichabod Crane spends much time telling ghost stories with the old Dutch wives of Sleepy Hollow; he is the "playmate" of his larger students. In bringing each of these protagonists to a kind of defeat, Irving is echoing James Gray's pronouncement that America must be mature, must call for "substantial food." Rip and Ichabod lose out because they fail to see the necessity of demanding "fact and doctrine," which are at once the prerequisite for and the evidence of personal and cultural maturity. They are would-be heroes, but would-be heroes of the imagination, who cannot withstand or successfully come to terms with the terror that is the lot of such a hero, the terror implicit in Rip's loss of identity, explicit in Ichabod's flight. They defeat themselves. It would appear that for Irving there is no place, or a very limited place, for the hero of the imagination in the culture of early America. A nation of Rips and Ichabods, Americans might reason, would soon be no nation at all.
Not even the settings can endure in these tales. It is as if Irving must admit that this is not a real past, that he will not persist in playing with the imagination. In "Rip Van Winkle" the village is transformed from "drowsy tranquility" to a bustling disputatiousness. There are no more shadows in Rip's world. In Sleepy Hollow, to be sure, the people remain unchanged. But we have been shown who is master there: it is Brom Bones (whose true name, Brom Van Brunt, also suggests the kind of strength Irving wants him to have), perhaps the first American bully, who can play upon fear and superstition to get what he wants. His apparent audacity in impersonating a ghost shows how fully in control Brom Bones is. For this impersonation is audacious only if we see it from the point of view of the villagers of Sleepy Hollow. To Brom Bones, to the only authentic American in the tale, it must literally be child's play. Irving has thus shown his American readers images of themselves in the changed village of "Rip Van Winkle" and in the character of Brom Bones. The manner of each tale suggests that Irving did not find these images entirely flattering, albeit necessary, and, indeed, readers have never found them attractive. Instinctively we sympathize with Rip and Ichabod; we laugh at them and in doing so at what there is of them in us; at the same time, we regret their failure. But what we regret is only what we had to give up to become what we are.
Irving's most characteristic fiction involves variations on the basic pattern of victory for the practical and defeat for the impractical and visionary. In "The Spectre Bridegroom," Herman Von Starkenfaust's bold decision to impersonate a dead lover wins for him a beautiful wife. The "very manly" aunt in "The Adventure of My Aunt" exposes a robber by her refusal to be frightened when the eyes of a picture on the wall begin to move, while the unfortunate Young Italian of "The Adventure of the Mysterious Stranger" confesses that he has always been "a visionary, imaginary being." At the end of the Italian Banditti section ofTales of a Traveler, it is the Englishman, vexatious, hardheaded, insensitive, blind to chivalric courtesy, who saves the lovely Venetian Lady from the bandits whom he alone has scorned. "Dolph Heyliger" shows us how Dolph's daring to sleep in a haunted house ultimately leads him to wealth and a beautiful girl. For the grown-up person, for the practical and bold, the prize is wealth and beauty; for the childish, visionary, imaginary being, the price is the same wealth and beauty. Brom Bones, Herman Von Starkenfaust, and Dolph Heyliger are all recognizably related by a success that comes from their control of the imagination. The others, those duped by their imaginations, share the brotherhood of failure.
Even the symbolic structure of a sketch may tell us about the functioning of the imagination in Irving's work and thus about the relationship of such characters as Rip and Ichabod to the culture out of which they come. A miraculous conversation between a narrator and a book makes up the substance of "The Mutability of Literature." Irving's introduction of the conversation is significant. He postulates certain half-dreaming moods of mind in which we seek solitude, so that we may "indulge our reveries and build our air-castles undisturbed." In such a mood the narrator of the sketch is loitering around the cloisters of Westminster Abbey, when the noise of boys playing football breaks in upon his reverie. Instinctively, he seeks to retreat "still deeper into the solitudes of the pile." He applies for admission to the library and is shown "through a portal rich with the crumbling sculpture of former ages" which opens "upon a gloomy passage"; just within the passage there is "a small door on the left," double-locked, "opened with some difficulty, as if seldom used." The narrator and a guide ascend "a dark narrow staircase, and, passing through a second door," enter the library. It is here that a book bound in parchment strikes up a conversation on the mutability of literature.
The trip to the library has of course a literal necessity: Irving must find an old book to converse with, and what better place to find such a book than in the library of Westminster Abbey. But the carefully wrought details of getting to the library suggest as well a symbolic significance: these details mark not only a retreat from the glare and noise and distraction of the outer world, but also, if we may adopt a given symbology as a heuristic device, a symbolic journey back to the womb—in this case the womb of the mother country—a psychic regression into the very antithesis of the adult world of "broad and simple daylight." Here the marvelous can be cultivated, the imagination can function unembarrassed. In the adult world, we remember, the world of fact and doctrine, the imagination has little function; thus Irving stages a retreat from the noise of actual children and symbolically regresses to an earlier psychological-historical period of existence in order to achieve imaginative freedom.
Irving's choice and treatment of historical subjects is likewise significant for our analysis. In Christopher Columbus, William L. Hedges points out, Irving had "a full-fledged legendary hero," both mythic and real.7 The subject of the biography takes us back to a time when Europe was the known and America the unknown. When Columbus's ships set out, writes Irving, "they seemed literally to have taken leave of the world." "Before them was chaos, mystery, and peril." Columbus, as we know, is the hero of the piece, who meets the challenges of the unknown rationally and scientifically. Their imaginations stimulated by the unknown before them, the sailors are often in terror and despair. Columbus, however, is a man of a different stamp: "Columbus tasked his science and ingenuity for reasons with which to allay their terror"; "Columbus endeavored to dispel these gloomy presages"; "Columbus continued with admirable patience to reason with these fancies." The sailors lose faith in the outcome of the voyage and desire to turn back; Columbus, however, maintains his faith in what he knows rationally must be true, assuages their fears as best he can, and is ultimately responsible for the success of the venture. Science, ingenuity, and reason have triumphed over superstition, fear, and fancy, and the result has been the discovery of a New World.
Irving's selection of George Washington rather than Queen Isabella for extended biographic treatment marks a final decision to do what he could with the American past. Yet the "essentially historic" nature of the work indicates a concession to the insistence of his culture on actualities. He conceives of Washington as a man who "had very little private life," who was "eminently a public character. All his actions and concerns almost from boyhood were connected with the history of his country." Irving sees Washington as a man whose life, molded by "fact and doctrine," epitomized adult, public existence.
Unable to achieve a satisfactory mode of imaginative expression from the stuff of the "commonplace realities of the present," Irving turned, as we have seen, to techniques which would give him the requisite imaginative latitude. He pretended both childishness and antiquity for America, then, in effect, stood back and saw these things fail before an always triumphant broad daylight which existed to celebrate the absence of childishness and antiquity. He handled his materials urbanely, with a diffused humor stemming largely from his use of the mock-heroic ("sportively Gothic," Henry A. Pochmann calls some of his early tales8); this allowed him to maintain a stylistic, mannered, and gentlemanly distance from the resolution of his tales.
In Westminster Abbey Irving contemplated the tomb of a Crusader, in whose exploits he saw "the connecting link between fact and fiction; between the history and the fairy tale." No such connecting link existed for the artist in America; Captain Bonneville would not do, at least for Irving, who could see him only conventionally as one who challenged the romantic unknown.9 Irving constantly harkened back to what were for him prototypical men and situations. His treatment of one colored his treatment of any other, for to him imaginative creation rose out of the potential tension in basically one type of situation. The typical locus of creation in Irving's work is that in which a protagonist confronts the mysterious and unknown: if the protagonist lacks vision and reason he becomes a comic figure and goes down to some kind of defeat—for example, Ichabod Crane; if he possesses vision and reason he triumphs over the unknown and qualifies as an authentic hero—for example, Christopher Columbus. But Ichabod, of course, is a product of Irving's imagination, while Columbus is a historical figure. Irving's imaginatively created protagonists are childish, primitive images of what America could not assimilate into the national self-image; his historical protagonists, on the other hand, are images of exactly what made America what it wanted to be. Between the two types of protagonist there could be no valid traffic: Irving could not historicize Rip and Ichabod nor could he fictionalize Christopher Columbus and George Washington. The reality of history was a recognizable factor in the development of America. It was not to be confused with the reality of the imagination, which had no part in the discovery of the New World or in the birth of the new country.
That Irving did deal with both types of protagonist might suggest that he was seeking to transcend the limitations of his society in some tentative way in the interests of literary art. Although he could not bring the would-be hero of age, he could and did modulate the failure of his principal creations Rip and Ichabod after a moment of insight into the nature of terror—Ichabod, we recall, evidently reforms, grows up, and succeeds in another locale. The fact of their failure is nonetheless laden with meaning, signifying the inadequacy of imaginative endeavor, defining reality as the actuality of history and the present day. "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" show us meaning in action (if I may so emend a text of Ezra Pound's),10 meaning created, structured, dramatized. And if we know the tales better because of the culture, we know the culture immeasurably better because we have the tales.
2. The Port Folio, n.s., IV, 94-97 (July, 1810).
3. See John Robert Scott, Dissertation on the Progress of the Fine Arts, with an Introduction by Roy Harvey Pearce (Augustan Reprint Society, No. 45, 1954).
4. Edinburgh Review, L, 127 (Oct., 1829).
5. Henry James, Hawthorne (New York, 1880), pp. 42-43.
6. Stanley T. Williams, The Life of Washington Irving (New York, 1935), I, 44.
7. William L. Hedges, "Irving's Columbus: The Problem of Romantic Biography," The Americas, XIII, 134 (Oct., 1956). Mr. Hedges sees this biography as history transforming itself into fiction.
8. Washington Irving, American Writers Series (New York, etc., 1934), p. lxvi.
9. See Williams, Life, I, 34.
10. "The history of a culture is the history of ideas going into action," Guide to Kulchur (London, 1938), p. 44.
Daniel Hoffman (essay date 1961)
SOURCE: Hoffman, Daniel. "Prefigurations: 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.'" In A Century of Commentary of the Works of Washington Irving, edited by Andrew B. Myers, pp. 344-55. Tarrytown, N.Y.: Sleepy Hollow Restorations, 1976.
[In the following essay, which originally appeared in the 1961 edition of Form and Fable in American Fiction as a revision of a 1953 PMLA essay, Hoffman considers the importance of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" within the context of the American literary tradition.]
The first important literary statement of the themes of native folk character and superstition was made, fittingly enough, in the first literary work by an American to win world-wide acclaim. WhenThe Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. appeared in London in 1819, its author became the first of a long series of expatriate Americans who found their native roots all the more poignant for viewing them from a distance.
Washington Irving was fortunate, granted his special though restricted gifts, to be alive and in England at that moment in the history of literature. He sought out, and was taken up by, Sir Walter Scott, who was showing how the sentiment of nostalgia for the past could infuse fiction and become its informing principle. In his novels Scott projected that sense of historical continuity which formed a curious undercurrent of sensibility even before the Romantic movement began. Little though the Augustans attended the medieval or more recent past, there were important eighteenth-century successors to such early antiquarian works as Sir Thomas Browne's collection of Vulgar Errors (1648) and Samuel Pepys' collection of broadside ballads. Bishop Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) and John Brand's Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain (1795) laid the groundwork for the two directions British folklore study has followed ever since. Scott took his prominent place in both with his ballad collection, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802) and his comprehensive Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft (1830). Much more influential, however, than these formal studies in introducing a whole generation of readers—and authors—to such materials was his use of folklore in his own fiction. One of Scott's earliest and most popular disciples along this line was a young American littérateur, the London representative of P. E. Irving & Co., New York dealers in hardware.
Washington Irving was already something of an antiquary. His earlyKnickerbocker's History of New York reveals him to be enchanted with the very past he satirized. InThe Sketch Book Irving used several themes to which he would again and again recur: the Gothic tale in the German manner of 'The Spectre Bridegroom,' the antiquarian nostalgia of the four sketches on English Christmas customs, the character sketch of 'The Village Angler.' The two selections destined for most enduring fame, however, were careful reconstructions of the scenes of Irving's own boyhood in the Dutch communities of the Hudson Valley. One of these retells a German folktale in this American setting, in which Rip Van Winkle sleeps away his twenty years after a heady game of bowls with the ghostly crew of the Half-Moon. In the other tale, 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,' Irving brought into belles-lettres for the first time the comic mythology and folk beliefs of his native region. In Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones he dramatized that clash of regional characters—the Yankee versus the Backwoodsman—which would soon become a major theme in our literature, as well as a continuing motif in a century and a half of folktales, and in our national history.
It is surprising that the extent to which Irving drew upon native folklore has scarcely been acknowledged. The chief reason for this seems to be Henry A. Pochmann's convincing demonstration, in 1930, of the extent of Irving's indebtedness to his German contemporaries. Stanley T. Williams, in his definitive biography, gives us a further exploration of Irving's methods of composition.1 When we see the extent to which Irving depended on other men's books, often translating without acknowledgment, we can understand why recent critics are reluctant to grant him credit for originality in interpreting American themes.
The foremost students of American humor have strangely overlooked 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.' Walter Blair does call it 'a characteristic piece of American humor,' but his remark is relegated to a footnote. And Constance Rourke, writing with her usual felicity, remarks that 'in theKnickerbocker History and in "Rip Van Winkle" Irving created a comic mythology as though comic myth-making were a native habit, formed early . . . But his Dutch people were of the past, joining only at a distance with current portrayals of native character,'2 Why did Miss Rourke not mention 'Sleepy Hollow' ? I do not know; but I hope to show that in Ichabod and Brom Bones, Irving gave us portrayals of current native character projected backwards in time, rather than merely historical types unrooted in contemporary folklore.
There are of course good reasons why Brom and Ichabod have not been so recognized. For one thing, Irving's style is hardly what we expect in a folk document. For another, the Hudson Valley Dutch have long been thought an alien people by the Anglo-Saxons who conquered, surrounded, and outnumbered them. But the third and principal reason is Irving's own treatment of his Dutch materials. Almost everywhere except in 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' he deliberately altered the traditional characteristics of the Dutch for the purposes of his own fiction. As a consequence of Irving's popularity and of widespread ignorance of what the Dutch were really like, his caricatures were widely accepted as portraits of the Dutch-Americans. Paulding, writing The Dutchman's Fireside twenty-two years after the Knickerbocker History, imitated his friend in attributing chuckle-headedness and indolence to the brothers Vancour. In Cooper's Satanstoe (1845), however, we get a more realistic picture of the Dutch; his Guert Ten Eyck amply fulfills the historian Janvier's description: the Dutch 'were tough and they were sturdy, and they were as plucky as men could be.'3 Only in 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' did Irving give a Dutchman these attributes; everywhere else he made them fat, foolish, pompous, and pleasure-loving. Here his usual Dutchman does appear (Van Tassel), but only in the background. Brom Bones is his realistic Dutch frontiersman, who meets and bests a Yankee in the traditional conflict of our native folk humor. Why did Irving choose this theme, so different from his usual preoccupations?
When we admit his dependence upon books, we must look at the kinds of authors on whom he depended. Othmar and Musaeus were collectors and redactors of folktales and märchen. Irving knew personally a third folklorist, Dr. Karl Böttiger, 'who undoubtedly was able to give him expert advice on his folklore studies.'4 Wherever Irving went he collected popular sayings and beliefs; he was prepossessed by a sense of the past, and recognized the power—and the usefulness to a creative artist—of popular antiquities. Brom and Ichabod had their beginnings in local characters he had known as a boy;5 what made them take their singular form, however, was the direction in which Irving's imagination impelled them. And that direction was toward the fabulous. The fabulous was Irving's milieu.
In a reminiscence twenty years afterThe Sketch Book, Irving revealed that Diedrich Knickerbocker had learned the legend of Sleepy Hollow from an old Negro who gave him 'that invaluable kind of information, never to be acquired from books,' and from 'the precious revelations of the good dame at the spinning wheel.'6 Of Musaeus' Volksmärchen he says nothing. But he may well indeed have heard such stories in the old Dutch chimney corners. H. W. Thompson recounts similar motifs in York State folklore: nightly visitations by a shrieking woman 'tied to the tail of a giant horse with fiery eyes'; and 'a curious phantom . . . uttering unearthly laughter, lights shining from her finger tips.' There were revenants aplenty in Catskills. Still another important part of Dutch folk culture was the lusty practical joking7 which Cooper used in some of the most spirited pages in Satanstoe. Both aspects of Dutch folk life—the villagers' superstitions and their humor—are immortalized in 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.'
Irving sets his story in a folk society: 'It is in such little retired Dutch villages . . . that population, manners, and customs remain fixed; while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved.' And again: 'The neighborhood is rich in legendary lore . . . Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these sheltered long-settled retreats.' Into this community comes Ichabod Crane, 'a native of Connecticut, a State which supplied the Union with pioneers for the mind as well as for the forest.' Ichabod is Irving's Connecticut Yankee, the fictional ancestor of Mark Twain's Hartford mechanic. But his nearer descendants are Sam Slick, Jack Downing, Hosea Biglow. Before any of these was born in print Ichabod had already been a country teacher, a singing master, a sometime farmer; later he is to undergo still further metamorphoses which link him still more closely to these heroes of popular legend and literature. Like Ben Franklin, like Hawthorne's Holgrave, like the schoolmaster in Snow-Bound and Melville's marvelous Confidence Man, he was a jack of all trades. Metamorphosis is always magical, but now, in an egalitarian society, the magic is the power of self-reliance, not of Satan.
Ichabod's native shrewdness and perseverance are somewhat compromised by his credulity. 'No tale was too gross or monstrous for his capacious swallow.' Ichabod devoutly believed in all the remarkable prodigies retailed in Cotton Mather's History of New England Witchcraft (that is, the Magnalia Christi Americana). There he found spectral ships manned by ghostly women, heretics giving birth to monsters, revenants pursuing the innocent with invisible instruments of torture. But of all the ghostly tales in the valley, the one Ichabod Crane most liked to hear was that of the Headless Horseman.
Meanwhile, we remember, Ichabod falls in love with Katrina Van Tassel; more exactly, seeing her father's prosperous farm, he envisages 'every roasting pig running about with a pudding in his belly, and an apple in his mouth.' Considerations of this sort lead Ichabod into a most interesting reverie: he imagines 'the blooming Katrina, with a whole family of children, mounted on the top of a wagon loaded with household trumpery, with pots and kettles dangling beneath; and beheld himself bestriding a pacing mare, with a colt at her heels, setting out for Kentucky, Tennessee, or Lord knows where.' Here we have Ichabod Boone—Connecticut's pioneer of the wilderness as well of the mind. Traditionally the American frontiersman has resented the mercantile civilizer; in a thousand folktales the shaggy woodsman frightens the Yankee clear out of the district.
Ichabod's fatuous dream of pioneering prepares the way for his rival's entrance: 'a burly, roaring, roistering blade . . . Brom Van Brunt, the hero of the country round, which rang with his feats of strength and hardihood.' He had 'a mingled air of fun and arrogance,' and was 'always ready for either a fight or a frolic; but had more mischief than ill-will in his composition.' Famous for horsemanship, 'foremost at all races and cockfights' was Brom; 'and when any madcap prank, or rustic brawl, occurred in the vicinity, [the neighbors] always shook their heads, and warranted Brom Bones was at the bottom of it.'
Making allowances for Irving's smoothly flowing style, what we have here described is a Catskill Mike Fink, a Ring-Tailed Roarer from Kinderhook. While Irving was writing these lines in London, the real Mike Fink was somewhere west of Pittsburgh, shooting the heel off a nigger to make his foot fit the shoe, scalping Indians for the pure hell of it, roistering in towns along the Ohio. In Brom Bones's good-natured mischief there is a tinge of Mike Fink's brutality, if not of his sadism. That other favorite frontiersman, Davy Crockett, had not by 1819 become a national figure; yet the type—the swaggering frontier braggart, the prodigious hunter and strong man, the daredevil, the mischief-maker—was already well established in oral tradition. Irving's depiction of Brom Bones certainly gave these characteristics new clarity as they are combined for the first time in a fictional portrait of the genus frontiersman.
Irving now pits his rival suitors against each other. Ichabod, the Yankee, 'had a happy mixture of pliability and perseverance in his nature.' Although he is caricatured unmercifully, he is not entirely unworthy of our grudging admiration; a thoroughly self-reliant citizen, he adapts his strategy to meet the case. 'To have taken the field openly against his rival would have been madness,' so Ichabod insinuates himself into Katrina's notice while masquerading as her singing-master. Here he outwits Big Brom in the contest, perennially fresh in American comic lore, between wit and strength. But Ichabod forces Brom Bones to draw upon his own resources—the rough fancy of the frontiersman—as well as upon brute strength. This proves a dangerous combination for the scholar.
At Van Tassel's quilting frolic, when the old Negro tunes the fiddle and rosins the bow, Ichabod finds his métier, fair grounds whereon he can excel Brom Bones. The ungainly form of the pedagogue achieves animation if not grace, for he is from Down East in Connecticut and is sufficiently sophisticated to know how to dance with a lady. Brom, the bumpkin, 'sorely smitten with love and jealousy, sat brooding by himself in one corner.'
The dancing over, talk now turns to the recently concluded Revolutionary War. Old soldiers' exploits become more heroic at each telling, as Irving skillfully moves us from the reality of the dance to mildly comic exaggerations of heroic truth, then to the supernatural itself. We are near Sleepy Hollow, and 'there was a contagion in the very air that blew from that haunted region.' The mythology of war blends with that of the otherworld, lending credence to the supernatural, as we learn that 'mourning cries and wailings [were] heard and seen about the great tree where the unfortunate Major André was taken'; and we hear of 'the woman in white, that haunted the dark glen at Raven Rock,' who 'was often heard to shriek on winter nights before a storm, having perished there in the snow.' But the presiding spirit at this haunted conference was the Headless Horseman, who tethers his horse in the graveyard, haunts the church, and chases travellers. Brom Bones has met him. Riding his horse, Daredevil, Brom challenged the ghost to race for a bowl of punch—'and should have won it too, for Daredevil beat the goblin horse all hollow, but, just as they came to the churchbridge, the Hessian bolted, and vanished in a flash of fire.'
Here is the bravado of the American hero, so confident of his own powers that he will risk everything for nothing, as Sam Patch did when he jumped Niagara just to prove that 'Some things can be done as well as others.' Such reckless daring makes the Faustus legend seem native in this land; Irving tried his hand at that in 'The Devil and Tom Walker' a generation before Hawthorne gave the devil's compact more sombre treatment, a century before Stephen Vincent Benét outdid him in this comic mode.
But Ichabod reasserts the dominance of evil over American self-reliance: he quotes Mather on witches, and describes the ghosts he has seen himself. The homely Puritan cannot accept the bravado of the backwoods Natural Man; Ichabod and Brom inhabit different worlds although they live in the same village. When Ichabod bids Katrina good night, he is chagrined to find that his hopes for a prosperous match have somehow gone awry. Perhaps, having observed her rival swains' reactions to supernatural perils, she has decided not to be a Puritan's bride, however nimbly he may dance the quadrille. Ichabod steals away heavy at heart.
Now, in the best-known part of the story, comes Irving's debt to Musaeus. But the stylistic control of the atmosphere shows Irving's own talent at its best, while the conclusion of the story is of signal importance in the literary development of an American myth. The darkness deepens; all the tales of ghosts and witches crowd into Ichabod's brain. Now he crosses the stream where André was captured, a haunted brook. Ichabod is appalled to find he no longer rides alone. A silent horseman plashes beside him. Coming out of the valley, Ichabod gets a look at his companion and discovers, in terror, that he carries his head in his hands! Crane rushes toward the church-bridge, where the Hessian, pursuing Brom, had disappeared. Reaching the bridge, Ichabod turns 'to see if his pursuer should vanish, according to rule'—a fine pedantic touch!—but sees instead 'the goblin rising in his stirrups . . . hurling his head at him. Ichabod endeavored to dodge the horrible missile, but too late.' He falls from his horse, 'and the black steed, and the goblin rider, passed by like a whirlwind.'
Ichabod was never seen again in Sleepy Hollow. His landlord burns his copy of Mather's Witchcraft and determines to keep his own children from school, 'observing that he never knew of any good come of this same reading and writing.'
Here in this York State valley, Irving's Dutch braggart concocts the perfect backwoodsman's revenge on the Yankee.8 This first statement of the theme is among the most memorable it has ever received in our literature; it is with us yet and ever has been, in Davy Crockett outwitting peddlers, in a thousand dime novels and popular magazines in which the yokel gets the best of the city slicker.9
The rustic hero may be naïve and honest, with only his common sense to help him make his way in the world; so he appears as Jack Downing, as Hosea Biglow, as Robin in Hawthorne's My Kinsman, Major Molineux, as Huckleberry Finn. Or he may be a swashbuckling braggart, half horse, half alligator, like all the ring-tailed roarers and Thorpe's Big Bear of Arkansas. No matter; in either form he represents the American élan, the pioneer, the Natural Man rebelling against the burden of guilt of the ages. It was he who cut the cords that bound him to the English throne, to all king-ridden Europe. Naked he stands in the wilderness, bereft of the past, confident that all human history begins—with him.
Who is his adversary? Perhaps an insufferable fop from the city to the East—traditions, culture, lineage, class distinctions always come from the East in American mythology: from New England, from Europe. Perhaps he is a shrewd, narrow-nosed Yankee peddler. No matter; in either form he stands for that ancient heritage of useless learning and inherited guilt against which the American, in each succeeding generation, must rebel.
Such are the roles in this ever-recurring fable of the American destiny. Washington Irving, whose birth coincided with that of the Republic, formulated a theme of its national literature with his dramatization of the Republic's dominant myth. Even Henry James is in his debt.
But what of Ichabod Crane? Did the pumpkin kill him? Of course not! Our folk heroes never die. Wearing the magic cloak of metamorphosis, they stave off death forever by simply changing their occupations. The ungainly pedagogue is no more—long live the New York City lawyer! For that is what Ichabod becomes after he makes his way from Sleepy Hollow. And onward and upward he goes: from the bar into politics, from his office to the press, thence to the bench. Far be it from Washington Irving to analyze or criticize the great American myth; where he finds a mythology of humor, he improves it on its own grounds. Responding instinctively to his fabulous materials, he makes Ichabod unforgettable in a stunning caricature. Brom, who is much more like life, is not so memorable, even though Americans always love a winner.
Yet Ichabod is not ultimately the loser in this legend. All he has lost is a farm girl's love and a measure of self-respect; the former was no real passion, the latter can be repaired. Ichabod Crane is a sorry symbol of learning, of culture, of sophistication, of a decayed religious faith, of an outworn order in the world. His very name suggests decrepitude: 'And she named him Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel' (I Sam. iv. 21). But Ichabod Crane is no Israelite; although an anachronism in all other respects, he is yet an American. And therefore he is immortal. Back to the city he goes, to find success.
Brom Bones stays in the village and gets the girl. He deserved her more than Ichabod did, for while the scholar danced and counted his stuffed pigs, Brom experienced two human emotions: jealousy and love.
Ichabod also knew two emotions, and two only. His were fear and ambition. He is not the loser, because he leads a full and prosperous life, experiencing to the brim the two emotions which give meaning to his existence: fear, in Sleepy Hollow, and ambition, in New York City. For it is the same ambition which led him to court Katrina Van Tassel that takes him later to the bar and the polls, to the editor's chair and the judge's bench. Ambition of this magnitude requires for its satisfaction a culture sufficiently complex to be capable of corruption. It cannot be gratified in the folk society of Sleepy Hollow Village, where the good people are as pure as the air.
Fear and ambition are Ichabod's, but not love. That is because Ichabod Crane is not wholly human. A sterile intellectual, his head aswim with worthless anachronisms, his heart set on material gain, Ichabod is gracelessly devoid of the natural human affections. He is the bumpkin's caricature of what life in the seat of a corrupt civilization can make of a man.
When one compares 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' to the bulk of Irving's work it seems anomalous that he could have mustered the imaginative power to enrich us so greatly, for most of Irving's writing betrays a lack of creative energy, a paucity of invention. Irving, after all, was never able successfully to transcend the limited aims of a 'sketch,' and he continued to rework his old themes in new disguises,10 telling a tale now set in old Dutch New York, now in Germany, now in England, now in Spain.Bracebridge Hall, Tales of a Traveller, most ofWolfert's Roost andThe Sketch Book itself make tedious reading today. They show all too plainly Irving's faults: his dependence upon secondary sources, and the restricted range of emotional experience from which he was able to create fiction. But in the characters of Ichabod and Brom Bones, Irving found archetypal figures already half-created by the popular imagination. Among all of Irving's characters only Rip Van Winkle has as great a power to move us; and Rip, too, is what the highly developed but narrow gift of a storyteller whose milieu was the fabulous has made of a character from folklore. Although the original Peter Klaus was German, the themes of Rip Van Winkle are universal: the pathos of change, the barely-averted tragedy of loss of personal identity. And, as Louis LeFevre has pointed out,11 Rip is indeed close to an aspect of the American national character—that yearning for escape from work and responsibility which is exemplified by a host of gadgets and the daydream dramas of contemporary popular culture. Irving's Knickerbocker Dutchmen were, as Miss Rourke observed, remote caricatures resurrected from a distant past. But when Irving dramatized the homely comic figures he found in native American folk traditions, his Ichabod and Brom pass so readily into the reader's own imagination that they seem to be persons we have always known. 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' sketches the conflict of cultures which the rest of our literature has adumbrated ever since. One could predict that from Irving's story; both Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones lived lustily ever after. They are rivals yet.
1. Irving's use of folk traditions of piracy is noted by W. H. Bonner, Pirate Laureate: The Life & Legends of Captain Kidd (New Brunswick, N. J., 1947), pp. 151-65; Leonard Beach discusses Irving's use of American themes and recognizes Ichabod as 'Irving's judgment of Puritanism': 'Washington Irving,' University of Kansas City Review, XIV (1948), 259-66. Pochmann notes 'Irving's German Sources in The Sketch Book,' Studies in Philology, XXVII (July 1930), 477-507; see also 'Irving's German Tour and Its Influence on His Tales,' PMLA, XLV (Dec. 1930), 1150-87. Pochmann shows, with parallel texts, that in 'Rip Van Winkle' Irving translated and expanded the story of Peter Klaus, a German goatherd who fell asleep for years, which he found in the Volkssagen of Othmar; and in 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,' he demonstrates Irving's indebtedness to the Rübezahl legends in Volksmärchen der Deutschen, by Musaeus. See also Williams, The Life of Washington Irving (New York, 1935), I, 177-86.
2. Blair, Native American Humor, p. 16, n. 3. Basing his judgment of Irving as a native humorist on the Knickerbocker's History of New York, Blair considers Irving as primarily 'a disciple of neoclassicism,' and concludes (p. 14) that 'he employed a technique which, admirable though it was, differed from that of typical American humor.' Rourke, American Humor, p. 77.
3. Thomas A. Janvier, The Dutch Founding of New York (New York, 1903), p. 4; Janvier takes issue with Irving's characterization of the Dutch on pp. 1-3, 9, 14, 46, 105, and 131-2.
4. Pochmann, 'Irving's German Tour,' PMLA, XLV, 1153-4.
5. Brom Bones was identified by Pierre M. Irving as a wag of Tarrytown who 'boasted of once having met the devil . . . and run a race with him for a bowl of milk' (Life and Letters of Washington Irving, London, 1892, I, 282). See Williams, Life, I, 429, n. 90, for a similar account; on p. 430, n. 91, he names Brom Van Allstyne of Kinderhook as the original of Irving's character. Ichabod Crane, Williams finds (p. 109), was modelled upon 'Jesse Merwin, the homespun wit' and village schoolmaster, as well as upon Fielding's Partridge and the schoolmaster in Goldsmith's Deserted Village.
6. 'Sleepy Hollow,' in Biographies and Miscellanies, ed. Pierre M. Irving (New York, 1866), pp. 514-16.
7. Thompson, Body Boots & Britches (Philadelphia, 1939), pp. 119-21; Carl Carmer, The Hudson (New York and Toronto, 1939), p. 35, lists some typical pranks.
8. The perfection of Irving's 'Legend' becomes even more apparent by comparison with 'Cobus Yerks,' Paulding's imitation of 'Sleepy Hollow.' Instead of Yankee vs. backwoodsman, we find a stupid, superstitious Dutchman frightened by a ghostly dog, otherwise Tim Canty, a merry Englishman. Now the story is reduced to its supernatural motif only; the richness which Irving's 'Legend of Sleepy Hollow' holds for us, its reverberations on the themes of national and regional character, are entirely lacking in Paulding's caricature. Tales of the Good Woman, ed. W. I. Paulding (New York, 1867), pp. 285-99.
9. Mark Twain's first newspaper sketch was a version of this motif, called 'The Dandy Frightening the Squatter,' reprinted in Tall Tales of the Southwest, ed. F. J. Meine (New York, 1930), pp. 447-8; discussed by Bernard DeVoto in Mark Twain's America (Boston, 1932), pp. 90-91.
10. Much later Irving was to return to the frontier materials he used for Brom Bones in 'The Early Experiences of Ralph Ringwood,' a fictionalized biography of Governor Duval of Florida (Wolfert's Roost, New York, 1865. pp. 294-341). Some of the supernatural lore from 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' turns up here too, notably an apparition of a horse as a devil (pp. 298-9). Of his late frontier sketches Beach notes, 'Strange that Irving should have come so close to Longstreet's and Craddock's property! Strange too that he should not have known what to make of it' ('Washington Irving,' University of Kansas City Review, XIV, 266). Perhaps the key to this puzzle is that Ralph Ringwood, a Kentuckian, meets only Westerners and hence there is no opportunity for Irving to give this sketch the dramatic power which the conflict of regional characters made possible in 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.' In view of the popularity, as well as the artistic success, of the earlier sketch, it is indeed surprising that Irving should have followed it with so poor an effort.
11. 'Paul Bunyan and Rip Van Winkle,' Yale Review, XXXVI (Autumn 1946), 667-6.
Walter Shear (essay date January 1976)
SOURCE: Shear, Walter. "Time in 'Rip Van Winkle' and 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.'" Midwest Quarterly 17, no. 2 (January 1976): 158-72.
[In the following essay, Shear argues that "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" are excellent examples of the short story format, noting that, in both stories, Irving "combines personal time and social time through the notion of rhetorical credulity."]
Trying to define the short story as genre, the Irish writer Frank O'Connor differentiated its form from the novel by saying: "In any novel the principal character is Time. Even in inferior novels, the chronological ordering of events establishes a rhythm, which is the rhythm of life itself. . . . Every short story represents a struggle with Time—the novelist's Time—a refusal to allow it to establish its majestic rhythms. It attempts to reach some point of vantage, some glowing center of action, from which past and future will be equally visible. The crisis of the short story is the short story, and not, as in the novel, the logical, inescapable flowering of events" (Hale, pp. 30, 31).
According to O'Connor, the broad sense of time, past and future, is present in the short story but dominated in such a manner by form that the energies of time flow not into history but into a more personal urgency about time, crisis. Time in the short story is the awareness of an ultimate moment, the marking of the spot where characters or circumstances changed—or failed to seize the chance to change. It thus partakes of Eternity as it dramatizes the absolute nature of destiny, and in this respect, it charges the narrative line with the dimension of the extraordinary. Unlike the fable, however, fiction is story-telling which concentrates on a particular culture's version of its people and their relationship to what that culture perceives as the given, fixed factors of existence. As such, fiction must also have its being in the quotidian rhythms of that culture. The individual crisis in a short story is what form creates as it causes the sense of the ordinary and the extraordinary in time to modify each other.
Further this reciprocal modification is focused and accented by our cultural perception of a past invading the present and/or the present losing its steady hold on the future. The dynamic potential of time can be manifested suddenly or steadily, but never chaotically: it is invariably confined to the problematic nature of cultural views of the possible and impossible.
Characterization in the short story is the responsive center that gives personal meaning to those configurations. As the past and future are squeezed into a dramatic but astonishingly precarious juxtaposition and the processes of time take on fabulous qualities, the characters' struggles for orientation inform the audience of the intensities connected with the release of new energies into a familiar world. To use O'Connor's terms, the crisis, the point of vantage from which past and future will be equally visible, is that of social or expatriated beings. And the pressure of a powerful and active time falls precisely on their coherence as personalities—that is, as beings with clear sets of values and social and personal obligations, with answers which correspond to questions that have been asked and that will be asked, with a consistent appearance for others. In brief, the current worldly condition of the characters in a short story can be threatened by the past, by the future, or by both ends of the time spectrum converging upon them. Time becomes a mysterious quality of experience, and its uncalculated energies demand disposition. Relatively unencumbered by time, writers such as the American transcendentalists could dismiss (as Emerson did) the silly worries about personal consistency in character, but for the short story writer these concerns were the vital functions of the individual human being, the means by which the self both maintained and survived its orientation to the world.
Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" are excellent examples of the short story in that both illustrate ways in which form—often as embodied in conventions and story lines Irving adapted from earlier narratives—manages rhetorically to both encompass (thus define) and release the energies associated with the force of time as process. In each story the generating of crucial action for the protagonist involves sudden, abrupt quickenings of both past times and future times against the backdrop of a present that had previously been deceptively static in its insistence upon quotidian routines and recognized distributions of social powers. With this abrupt shift in the pacing of events, Rip and Ichabod find themselves facing a reality that can only seem to them to be fabulous, though for Rip the sense of the fantastic tends to accumulate in time after the fact, while for Ichabod the dimensions of experience are accelerated to impossible proportions by his own furtive imagination. In each story fabulous time is kept under control by persistent varieties of skepticism, so that we as readers are told that the narrative is fiction, but not fantasy—that is, that it involves the direct interaction of the essential being of the character with the environment on which his being has depended and could well depend in the future—and that it, like any social anecdote, is dependent upon its relationship to the individual minds of socially sophisticated people.
While neither Rip nor Ichabod has the emotional range of a character in a sentimental novel, and our perspective is never restricted simply to the anxious one of their hopes and fears, Irving calls attention with the notion of narrative itself to their ability to internalize their experiences—Rip in a completely casual way, Ichabod in his own anxious manner. It is this susceptibility which eventually sets them apart from their societies and pretty much comes to define their beings for the reader. In fact, this characteristic seems defined and accelerated by the experiences themselves, establishing a subjective dimension of time within the narrative. The beginning of each story is devoted to establishing them, with much humorous detail, firmly in their societies—they are not typical perhaps, but certainly not outré, rather comfortable and at home. Irving's good-humored placing of Rip is probably as convincing as any information he gives us about him:
Rip Van Winkle . . . was one of those happy mortals, of foolish, well-oiled dispositions, who take the world easy, eat white bread or brown, whichever can be got with least thought or trouble, and would rather starve on a penny than work for a pound. If left to himself, he would have whistled life away in perfect contentment; but his wife kept continually dinning in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family.
Throughout the story, Rip, the easy-going type, takes the World—real or fabulous—for what it seems to be at the moment and is, in fact, always on the verge of not providing enough active concerns or clearly focused worries for a definite plot. One can say that Dame Van Winkle is a problem and the twenty years' sleep a solution for him, but given the phlegmatic aspects of his character she functions more as irritant than antagonist (though she does call attention to her society's concepts of a future). In a placid provincial village, apparently historically irrelevant, Rip's nearly total absence of urgency marks the epitome of an existence unencumbered by time, one whose meanderings never trace sinful paths because he lives in a place eternity also has seemingly forgotten. Rip has no dreams at the beginning and would probably never have any did he not step accidentally into the realm of fabulous time and have the occult nature of significance involve him. The world provides the dream, and it is its own narrative: the wonder of letting go, allowing the world to begin to happen and it, instead of the individual, attaining what seems to mere social dreamers to be the incredible. In Rip's experience time is suddenly telescoped, and the message, which neither Rip nor the villagers seem sufficiently to comprehend, is that history is always taking place even in the unlikely atmosphere of colonial America. Formally, the time of the novelist has been compressed and transformed by the limited but dramatic nature of Rip's sensibility.
In contrast to Rip, Ichabod Crane is the active dreamer, one whose sense of time at first seems to blend easily with that of his society. He helps with the seasonal farm chores, rocks cradles for hours, shows up for tea and gossip, sings in church Sunday mornings, and makes the rounds of the neighborhood as a boarding teacher living a week at the house of each parent. He is a busy man in the community, and even his inner life is stirred by and attuned to the superstitions of Sleepy Hollow. In this respect his characterization is to a large degree a caricature of the man of taste and culture. As Terrence Martin points out, Irving fits "the notion of gullibility into the dominant metaphor of Ichabod's oral preoccupation. . . . Ichabod can swallow and digest anything; therefore he is always and increasingly gullible" (p. 143). Thus, all his activities in the narrative possess the fatal coherence of his own fallible and eager responses to his environment; they seem to display a logic of their own: "Another of his sources of fearful pleasure was to pass long winter evenings with the old Dutch wives, as they sat spinning by the fire, with a row of apples roasting and spluttering along the hearth, and listen to their marvelous tales of ghosts and goblins, and haunted fields, and haunted brooks, and haunted bridges, and haunted houses, and particularly of the headless horseman, or Galloping Hessian of the Hollow, as they sometimes called him." Katrina Van Tassel "was a blooming lass of fresh eighteen; plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her father's peaches, and universally famed, not merely for her beauty, but her vast expectations. . . . Ichabod Crane had a soft and foolish heart toward the sex; and it is not to be wondered at that so tempting a morsel soon found favor in his eyes; more especially after he had visited her in her paternal mansion."
Until her rebuff, Ichabod seems to feel that he is doing very well, and there is little sign that many of the villagers see him as the grotesque caricature of inner hunger—the genius of famine or eloping scarecrow—which Irving describes. For his greedy, excitable sensibility, his future requires only physical embodiment:
The pedagogue's mouth watered as he looked upon this sumptuous promise of luxurious winter fare . . . [followed by a sensuous catalogue of Van Tassel goodies] his heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea of how they might be readily turned into cash, and the money invested in immense tracts of wild land, and shingle palaces in the wilderness. Nay, his busy fancy already realized his hopes, and presented to him the blooming Katrina, with a whole family of children, mounted on a wagon loaded with household trumpery, with pots and kettles dangling beneath; and he beheld himself bestriding a pacing mare, with a colt at her heels, setting out for Kentucky, Tennessee, or the Lord knows where!
Strangely, with the comparison of Ichabod's quest to that of a knight-errant for his lady, Irving accents the subjective sense of time and emphasizes the fact that as Ichabod's desires become more personal they must contend not merely with the public rhythms and values of his society, but with the counterpart of his own internalizing power, the fantastic, deceptive speed of external reality. Though he would pace time, he is finally paced by it. "The time of abundance" that he senses turns to "the witching time."
Both Rip and Ichabod are in a sense betrayed by history, at least by the fabulous quality of history which is associated with a form of internalizing on their parts and which acts by cooperating with—perhaps in Rip's case, creating—an internal dimension and thus expanding the esthetic field beyond the temporal juxtaposition of individual and society. In each case the mortal character's contact with the supernatural (or what appears to be the supernatural in the comic, but ominous, guise of the past) accelerates the speed of the narrative. In "Rip Van Winkle" the halloing of the little stranger might really be said to initiate the plot, which is structured and paced by the setting divisions—from society to the supernatural mountains back to the society (divisions duplicated in its more religious descendant, Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"). The middle section of "Rip Van Winkle" is a pastoral idyll, an escape from temporal and social pressures, but one which is comically exaggerated and distorted into a sleep in which one loses not merely the discomfort of life but a good portion of life itself. Especially important in this section is the silence Marvin Mengeling calls attention to as a basic tone in the story: the strange silence and gravity of the peculiar man Rip meets connotes not only the unknown but the challenge which the unknown and the past represents for the social self (pp. 460, 461). This is the jeopardy Rip must overcome to attain the enriched social being which is the result of the assimilation of tradition and history—a real possibility, even in a process as comically unconscious as his. In Irving's brilliantly naive characterization, Rip's psychology is always, despite bizarre experiences, that of the unviolated self. The more horrific implications of the innocent not seeing his own alteration seem avoided mainly by the natural aspect of growing old and by Rip's own good-humored capacities for adjustment to adversities: suddenly but coherently he possesses the essentially imperturbable perspective of age.
Ichabod's experiences are more clearly psychological encounters with the dark shadows of history. Both history and the supernatural are here subsumed by superstition (what can be true if one believes it), so that once his sensibility is sinisterly prodded by Brom Bones and the evocative historical presences, the whole force of his (and his society's) objectified anxieties is unleashed upon him. As these superstitions explode into psychological reality, his relationship to society also becomes a grotesque nightmare. The competition for Katrina's hand is transformed into a race for life, the rich sensuality of the harvest into a displaced head of pumpkin hurled at him out of the night. The experience is vividly, understandably, real to Ichabod and to the sort of reader who senses in it all the masqueraded, yet potent, earnest forces which had been always just behind the convivial crudity and sensuality of village social life.
Unlike Rip, Ichabod is thrust by his prodigious powers of internalizing out of his society; he follows the inevitable path of the fabulous and in one version of the conclusion is appropriated from this solid earth by spirits. But the last paragraph of the story, instead of sending us soaring away from the social world, seems to be merely a transposed version (in the conjecture of the old country wives) of Irving's social and quotidian theme, the weird magic residing in such a prosaic quality as credulity. The latter was the Janus quality in which Irving grounded his fiction and which, as he was continually aware, actually provided him with two realities. InWolfert's Roost he could almost be writing a critique of Ichabod's mental operations: "The imagination is alternately a cheat and a dupe: nay, it is the most subtle of cheats, for its cheats itself, and becomes the dupe of its own delusions. It conjures up 'airy nothings,' gives to them a 'local habitation and a name,' and then bows to their control as implicitly as if they were realities." Yet in the same volume, his affections were obviously extended in the opposite direction: "I thank no one for enlightening my credulity on points of poetical belief. It is like robbing the statue of Memnon of its mysterious music. Dispel historical illusions and there is an end to half the charms of traveling" (Works [The Works of Washington Irving ] XVI, 61, 368). The fact that Ichabod and Rip are comic and common never totally dispels the may-or-may-not visionary hint which the extra-social claims of private experience describe. Irving himself felt the sacred nature of belief could be found in unlikely forms: "Even the doctrine of departed spirits returning to visit the scenes and beings which were dear to them during the body's existence, though it has been debased by the absurd superstitions of the vulgar, in itself is awfully solemn and sublime. However lightly it may be ridiculed, yet the attention [is] involuntarily yielded to it whenever it is made the subject of serious discussion. . . . Everything connected with our spiritual nature is full of doubt and difficulty" (Works, VI, 129).
Credulity functions in "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" as the kind of point of vantage Frank O'Connor referred to, affording the perspective from which the past and the future begin to modify each other intensely. It is the gateway to the future-as-another-possibility, and in that sense introduces wonders that reality had not previously possessed or makes that reality seem wondrous. No mere mechanical operation, it is the access to a different quality of existence, one which stitches time together by intensifying and isolating those patterns of scene or action which are discovered by the reader to be the charms and terrors at the heart of life itself. Most of Irving's borrowed cultural materials enter at these stages of the narratives—not as immobile relics but quickened by the immediate responses of the characters into fascinating exhibits for the reader-observer of the power of culture for amazing and terrifying. The fragments of past are made real by the same process by which Irving's travelers perceive places as qualities rather than mere locations: "None but those who have experienced it can form an idea of the delicious throng of sensations which rush into an American's bosom, when he first comes in sight of Europe. There is a volume of associations with the very name. It is the land of promise, teeming with everything of which his childhood has heard, or on which his studious years have pondered" (Works, II, 23).
Since in these stories Irving's sense of the fabulous is rooted in credulity—man's recognition of his own fallibilities and the resultant absurd but fascinated tribute he pays to strange powers—"Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" are, for all their discovery of the fantastic, inclined to accept the supremacy and the autonomy of the temporal pattern and the way this pattern puts character in jeopardy. It is the latter tendency that inaugurates the short story as genre. In the guise of fabulous history—the Puritan Cotton Mather and the belief in Witchcraft; Major André, the headless horseman and the American Revolution; Hendrick Hudson and his crew—the past is suddenly descried as the active force it has always been, and the future is seen (with the past acting both as model and devilish intruder) as much more contingent than the routines of quotidian time have implied. But in order to really understand and measure the fabulous, there must be a return to social reality, and Irving accomplishes this by turning quite directly to examine fiction as a rhetorical problem.
Both Rip and Ichabod are in the course of their narratives unbelievably separated from their society. The silence of the unknown and of the mysterious figures in response to the characters' attempts to communicate seems to signify the loss of their social identities. Yet both Rip and Ichabod become, as characters in their respective narratives, properties of their communities and parts of communal life, as they could not have been without the separation having occurred. Irving's two versions of Ichabod's end at the conclusion of "Sleepy Hollow" give the reader rhetorical alternatives; they also illustrate two extremes in society's objectification of its realities: as mythic superstition, perpetuated by old country wives and by a certain fondness in the historian-persona Diedrich Knickerbocker; and as an apparent fantasy now settled into logical explanation with the addition of "objective" facts and close attention to sequences. In the context of Irving's story the evidence that Ichabod still lives and is now a justice of the Ten Pound Court must be more convincing than the idea that Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means, but the latter will always be the more interesting version, and as Irving points out, it is the one which seems to have the major impact on the community's culture. Like his life, Ichabod's fate is comic—coming down within the narrative to a matter of interpretation or quotidian indifference.
It is Rip's narrative that takes the more amazing twist, for in treating its objectification in Rip's return to the village, Irving actually calls into question the fantastic element of the narrative which he himself (or Knickerbocker as vague persona) has presented directly to the reader. Not only is there skepticism in the village's immediate response—"some were seen to wink at each other, and put their tongues in their cheeks"—but even in the last paragraph Irving notes slyly, "Some always pretended to doubt the reality of it, and insisted that Rip had been out of his head, and that this was one point on which he always remained flighty." This emphasis, along with the appended note in which Knickerbocker cites as evidence Rip's rationality in other matters and the certificate of an illiterate country justice, shifts the issue of credulity from the village to the reader, even as the postscript calls attention to the richness of this region in Indian fable. With little imagination, one can see that Rip's narrative could be regarded as a practical, social invention: Rip would have had good reason to leave his society in the first place, and his tale does establish his innocence in regard to accusations of desertion.
In the last section of "Rip Van Winkle," Irving is witty with the notion that change is often simply a matter of substituting something new for something old—General Washington's face for that of King George, one political system for another, Rip's son for Rip, the Union Hotel and its crowd for the village inn and its group. The changes stress the factor of appearances, yet Rip's sense of difference and similarity emphasizes that apparent change is to the social self real change. Beginning soon after his waking (with Rip's awareness of the natural barriers change has created), Irving builds Rip's response to the different into confusion and doubt about his own identity. Rip experiences what the reader must rhetorically conclude: the sense of absolutes which the current society displays—in respect to politics, the death of the past, the present settings and cast of social characters—is simply a delusion. In fact, society itself seems to have enough cultural richness to be partially aware of this defect of vision in its uncertain grasp of history and its own tendency toward credulity. In Irving's writings as a whole, it was usually the traveler or wanderer who could see most vividly that the tempting dream of home and domestic certainties which the community engendered was merely another response to time.
Irving directs our attention to the fact that, though Rip Van Winkle is established in society again at the end of the story, he is free of that society in several respects. Besides having, in embryo, a greater awareness than most in the community, Rip is no longer burdened with his own personal social conscience, Dame Van Winkle. In a natural sense, he is set free by age, by becoming irrelevant in time in relationship to the activities of earnest citizens. Finally, as William Hedges notes, Rip "acquires a new identity as a result of having a tale to tell" (p. 140). It is by having his old identity and then his story challenged by society that Rip gains a new or reinforced identity; he becomes a personality in the village. He is released into a fabulous present, a kind of social idyll. It may be said that he triumphs over his society and his triumph is his story—but only because he reenters and confronts society again. He is a living emblem of the past of the village and one whose claim that human existence in time is an adventure must be respected on some level, but he is also an improbable representative of history (appropriate only to Knickerbocker's kind of history) and one whose rhetorical relationship to society suggests only the problematic in the relationship between past and present. Rip's laziness tends to disqualify him as cultural hero in society's eyes, but his casual relationship to events seems most appropriate at the conclusion for the sense of eternity conveyed; he may be merely imitating the easy mood of his benevolent God.
Time's more overt activity is represented in "Rip Van Winkle" by the historical contrast in the pre- and post-revolutionary colonial village, in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by the social possibilities for Ichabod, possibilities which seem to grow with each succulent catalogue. In each case the passage of narrative time is called to our attention by the fact that the two protagonists have internalized a set of expectations for a future that never comes to pass. In each case also cultural history becomes part of the internalizing process as the characters themselves, through being in a narrative that has a relationship to a social audience, become a part of cultural history. Though the individual's capacity for internalizing (even with Irving's use of comic rather than sensibility types) may leave him vulnerable to a time-paced universe, the ability to objectify that relationship in rhetoric stretches out the individual's character through sequential order and its properties to encompass time frequencies that, while seeming fabulous to his society, are merely microcosmic versions of the abrupt rents social time would conceal.
Irving began the short story by demonstrating some of the milder but fascinating intensities associated with miniaturizing the individual's existence in time. The brilliance of his esthetic achievement results from the way he combines personal time and social time through the notion of rhetorical credulity—letting the latter quality both release the wild wonder of the fabulous and lock it in the suspension of deadpan skepticism. Irving demonstrates the surprising amount of literary energy that can be generated merely through the articulation of the instability produced by the effect of change on the individual. As he shows wittily, even for social beings there is a point at which the fantastic (in these cases, that span of time beyond quotidian measurements) becomes real. Even though his presentation of the forces of the past and of the problematic relationship of the future to the present is comic, in both stories the sense of crisis is present with sufficient strength to add anxious dimensions to a narrative line. As refracted through private experience—even as partial and distorted as that experience must of necessity be—time is transformed from history, future, past, and present into early, seemingly harmless versions of expectation, dread, alienation, and adjustment; and these dynamics are related to clearly established social realities, which, as the comic tone delightfully insists, have their own claims to legitimacy. The rhythms of the narratives are thus both rich with the earnestness of the personal, and natural with the stability of the communal.
Though the sequences of the stories do move eventually to crucial moments of crisis for the characters, the grimness is always kept in check by the disposition expressed in these socially comic characterizations to laugh at man's temporal predicaments rather than cry over them. Irving's awareness of miniaturizing proves surprisingly capable of blending his qualities of quaintness with the seriousness of the force of time's energies, and the unexpected combination is surely one reason why generations of readers have been both charmed and engaged by these two comic stories. Finally, what Irving articulates in this new form is that the historical fate of such culturally absurd people as the Americans can be taken seriously by abstracting it to the rollicking adventures of everyone in time. Without the continuity of class structures, everyday citizens see their notions of fame, happiness, and contentment (which they have been given the right to pursue) distributed capriciously by a random Eternal Justice. Nevertheless, tomorrow anything can happen—and if one only had history working for him . . . and could get on the good side of God. . . .
Hale, Nancy. The Realities of Fiction. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1961.
Hedges, William. Washington Irving. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965.
Martin, Terrence. "Rip, Ichabod, and the American Imagination." American Literature 31 (1959), 137-49.
Mengeling, Marvin. "Structure and Tone in 'Rip Van Winkle': The Irony of Silence." Discourse 9 (1966), 457-63.
The Works of Washington Irving. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1860.
Lloyd M. Daigrepont (essay date spring 1984)
SOURCE: Daigrepont, Lloyd M. "Ichabod Crane: Inglorious Man of Letters." Early American Literature 19, no. 1 (spring 1984): 68-79.
[In the following essay, Daigrepont suggests that Ichabod Crane, the protagonist in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," represents the disconnect between literary professionals and the natural world.]
The past quarter century has seen the publication of a number of provocative studies of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Generally, critics have probed the tale's portrayal of the conflict between civilization (or progress) and the idyllic dream of a new Eden in the American landscape. Most interpret this conflict in terms of the special concerns of the man of letters or the artist versus those of a practical-minded, progressive society.1 I do not mean to oversimplify these interpretations or to suggest that some are guilty of redundancy. The differences, though they may seem finely drawn in overview, are interesting and often quite provocative. Rather, I hope to demonstrate that Irving's tale, viewed in a broad historical context, evinces a somewhat rarefied meaning in which the general views of the various critics become resolved into complementary insights. To realize fully the thematic implications of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," one must first place the tale within the context of a specific problem in literary history—the ongoing and increased alienation of the genuine artist from the mainstream of modern society.
In the origins of modernity the Baconian revolution promoted, in J. A. Mazzeo's words, "a conflict between science and poetry, or science and what we may call the 'humanities'" (308). R. F. Jones, describing the new point of view of the Baconians and their calling-oriented Puritan supporters, writes, "The learning to be discarded is the inutile study of the classics and the empty disputatious philosophy drawn from them. The proper objects of study are things, not words, nature, not books, and the subjects which deal with nature directly and which possess 'useful' value are alone recommended" (99).2 James D. Hart reports that Puritans in America concerned themselves mainly with books that confirmed their belief that worldly success is a sign of virtue and salvation (14). Eventually, the exigencies of nation building and the American commitment to progress caused even men of enlightened views such as Thomas Jefferson, Noah Webster, and Timothy Dwight to look upon fiction as useless, distracting, or at best merely amusing (Brown 4-5). James Madison, confessing to a former "too great . . . hankering after those amusing studies," wrote that he "began to discover that they deserve but a small portion of a mortal's time, and that something more profitable befits a riper age" (1:20). In many instances, indifference to imaginative literature became suspicion and outrage as young audiences and females of all ages showed increased interest in the romance (Orians 195, 209). These attitudes were bolstered by the widespread influence of the Scottish Common Sense philosophy during the first decades of the new republic. Despite its contribution to aesthetics, the Scottish Common Sense philosophy, as Terence Martin ably demonstrates in The Instructed Vision, "defined the real as the actual, contributing in its own way a new dimension to the American distrust of imaginative experience. And nowhere was it of more assistance (or perhaps, ultimately, of more significance) than in strengthening the case against fiction" (54).
As I have suggested, the strong effort to censure fiction was itself indicative of the growing popularity of the novel. However, it would be wrong to assume that this popularity reflected a refinement of American literary taste. The bulk of the fiction read and produced by Americans through the early national period reflected a burgeoning popular taste for the excessive emotionalism of the sentimental tale, the novel of sensibility, and the Gothic romance (Hart 65-66). Though the audience for novels consisted "of the lower middle class which rose to prominence after the Revolution, of nearly all the younger generation, and of women of every age and station" (Hart 53), the last group, women, exerted a dominant influence. Though female authors were not in profusion (as they would be in the 1850s), they produced more than a third of the fiction published in America before 1820 (Hart 57). Even male novelists catered to the concerns of females (Brown 105). Female dominance of literary taste was indicative not of liberalism but of its very opposite—a prevailing attitude that limited both women and literature to the parlor. Those who did not regard imaginative literature as merely amusing were convinced that "it must avoid skepticism, pessimism, and immorality—that is, it must idealize the institutions and the virtues which hold society together" (Charvat 138). Woman's designated role harmonized perfectly with these functions: "Hers was the grateful task of embellishing and refining society, and of forming the character of the rising generation" (Brown 100).
However, this identification of fiction with woman's assigned role in society did not result in the suppression of emotionalism. What emerged, rather, was a fiction characterized by a curious fusion of extremes, of didacticism and sentimentality, respectability and sensationalism. As Terence Martin writes, novelists "indulged themselves in little orgies of the imagination under the dispensation of an adventitious, educative premise" (The Instructed Vision 135). Sentimental novels, mainly seduction tales based on Richardson's Pamela, excused their sentimentality and daring subject matter with tacked-on morals, claims of factualness, and even attacks on other novelists (Orians 203-04). Gothic romances and novels of sensibility offered self-indulgent emotionalism while fostering an ideal of innate human goodness in their portrayals of heroes and heroines and encouraging female readers to affect the innocence and delicacy expected of them by society (Hart 59-64).
The ultimate significance of the compromise between popular taste and the didactic and utilitarian imperative of the critics and moralists is that American writers, with a few exceptions, failed to produce great fiction during the opening decades of the new republic. They lacked a valid concept of fiction (Martin, The Instructed Vision 135). This problem was Irving's chief concern in writing "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Viewing his homeland from Europe three decades after the ratification of the Constitution and the publication of William Hill Brown's The Power of Sympathy (generally regarded as the first American novel), Irving instilled in Ichabod Crane the characteristics of those writers who dominated the American literary scene, and in the conclusion of his tale he symbolically portrayed their defeat, suggesting nonetheless that victory over censure and popular taste may never be as unqualified as Brom Bones's victory over Ichabod.
That Ichabod Crane is intended to represent the popular writers of Irving's day is confirmed by all aspects of Irving's development of his character. To begin with, Ichabod's existence in Sleepy Hollow is in virtually all situations characterized by association with women and with concerns traditionally considered feminine in American society. As schoolmaster he holds one of the few positions that in his time could be filled by a woman as well as a man. His manner of conducting school betrays unmasculine insecurity and immaturity. He imposes a menacing authority over the schoolhouse, whipping only the sturdy and stubborn boys, who refuse to cower before the birch. Among the larger boys, he is after school hours less the master than "the companion and playmate." Within the "female circle" of Sleepy Hollow, Ichabod enjoys preeminence, "being considered a kind of idle gentlemanlike personage, of vastly superior taste and accomplishments" who is able "to occasion some little stir at the tea-table of a farmhouse, and the addition of a supernumerary dish of cakes or sweetmeats, or, peradventure, the parade of a silver teapot." Dependent upon the community for food and lodging, Ichabod attempts to make himself useful and agreeable, but his duties are limited to the "lighter labors" of the farms, and he is often to be found sitting "with a child on one knee, and rock[ing] a cradle with his foot for whole hours together" (146-47).3 As singing master, dancer, and gossip, Crane actually cultivates his place in female society, and one of his chief delights is to spend winter evenings exchanging ghost stories with the old Dutch wives as they sit spinning by the fire.
Because of his various occupations, Ichabod outwardly qualifies, as some critics have argued, as Irving's representative of the profession of letters in America. However, careful reading reveals that Ichabod is "our man of letters" (147) not from the point of view of the narrator, but only in the eyes of his mainly female admirers. Virtually every mention of Ichabod's literary propensities employs a tone of mock-heroic irony. An "odd mixture of small shrewdness and simple credulity," he has achieved among the womenfolk the reputation of "a man of great erudition, for he had read several books quite through" (148). Reminiscent of Shadwell's rule over the kingdom of dullness in Dryden's Mac Flecknoe, the schoolmaster oversees "all the concerns of his little literary realm," pensively "enthroned on the lofty stool" of learning, "a ferule, that sceptre of despotic power," swaying in his hand (156). Riding the decrepit Gunpowder in quest of the rural beauty (and heiress) Katrina Van Tassel, Ichabod is comically suggestive of Bellerophon mounted upon the winged horse of the Muses, Pegasus. The short stirrups bring his knees "nearly up to the pommel of the saddle," causing his elbows to stick out sharply like a grasshopper's so that, as his horse trots, "the motion of his arms [is] not unlike the flapping of a pair of wings" (158). Never completing the "poetic scrawl" (171) by which he hopes to win Katrina's favor, Ichabod contributes to the literary advancement of the community only in ways suggestive of popular attitudes. As a gossip, he becomes Sleepy Hollow's "travelling gazette" (148). Between services on Sunday mornings he engages the young ladies in a trivial version of the Eleusinian mysteries, "gathering grapes for them from the wild vines that overrun the surrounding trees; reciting for their amusement all the epitaphs on the tombstones" (147). Incapable of achieving Beauty and Truth, the popular writer dwells in a realm of trivialities, now titillating his audience, now providing some useful or intriguing bit of knowledge.
A Connecticut Yankee, Ichabod also represents the modern debasement of imagination by materialism, a pious utilitarianism, and the idea of progress, particularly as these were supported in early nineteenth-century America through the widespread influence of Scottish Common Sense philosophy. Emphasis on concrete reality induces the imagination's descent toward the mundane. To borrow Coleridge's distinction, one might say that Imagination degenerates into mere Fancy. Such debasement is apparent in the passage in which Ichabod contemplates the abundance of the Van Tassel farm. From the narrator's point of view, the farm is the scene of a nearly spiritual exuberance and vitality: "Hard by the farmhouse was a vast barn, that might have served for a church; every window and crevice of which seemed bursting forth with the treasures of the farm" (150). Swallows, martins, pigeons, pigs, geese, ducks, turkeys, guinea fowls, hens, and a gallant cock cause the barnyard itself to teem with vitality. For Crane, however, the farm is merely an item of consumption, and, when the description is repeated from his point of view, the scene is fancifully transformed but retains none of its former vitality:
The pedagogue's mouth watered, as he looked upon this sumptuous promise of luxurious winter fare. In his devouring mind's eye, he pictured to himself every roasting-pig running about with a pudding in his belly, and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; the geese were swimming in their own gravy; and the ducks pairing cosily in dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent competency of onion sauce. In the porkers he saw carved out the future sleek side of bacon, and juicy relishing ham; not a turkey but he beheld daintily trussed up, with its gizzard under its wing, and, peradventure, a necklace of savory sausages; and even bright chanticleer himself lay sprawling on his back, in a side-dish, with uplifted claws, as if craving that quarter which his chivalrous spirit disdained to ask while living.
That the farm itself means nothing to Ichabod is also suggested by his plan to sell it and move west after gaining control of Katrina's inheritance. He is a representative of progress, of "the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country" (144) and which the narrator at one point blames for the absence of legendary treasures in most parts of America.
The emphasis on rationality and empirical truth in the eighteenth century provoked the excesses of sentimentalism, sensibility, and the Gothic vogue. Ichabod's character is suggestive of this relationship. He not only betrays a foolish weakness for female charm, but, as if overcompensating for the cold shrewdness that inextricably links Katrina to her father's wealth, Ichabod exacts a perverse pleasure in his own fear of the supernatural. He experiences a "fearful pleasure" listening to the ghost stories told by old women and a "delight" in so frightening himself in the lonely surroundings of the schoolhouse with "old Mather's direful tales" (148-49) that he can make his way home in the dark only by loudly singing hymns. That Ichabod's superstitions should coexist with his extreme materialism is no more improbable than that Gothic novels, as M. H. Abrams has written, should possess "inevitable denouements to render assurance that the seeming wonders were in perfect accord with the laws of science after all" (271). And Ichabod's vengeful birchings of the sturdier boys are always followed by assurances of moral improvement, just as the emotionalism of much of the fiction of Irving's day found an excuse in didacticism.
The ironic connection between pragmatism and emotional and imaginative excess is also suggested in the climax of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." First, Katrina's refusal of Ichabod's marriage proposal reveals that he has merely deluded himself by imagining the Van Tassel farm as his future utopia of the appetites. Having placed the imagination exclusively in the realm of the mundane he has merely distorted reality. Second, Ichabod has used his imagination in the service of destruction and consumption instead of creativity. This degradation of imaginative power betrays an alienation from Nature that is expressed in Ichabod's fearful imaginings on his return from the Van Tassel farm (Clendenning 382, Roth 164-65). That Brom Bones uses Ichabod's superstitious fears to complete the job of running him out of Sleepy Hollow after Katrina's refusal thus reflects Irving's hope that the degenerate uses of the imagination in the ersatz fiction of his time could also somehow be discouraged.
While Ichabod Crane represents the ersatz man of letters, the setting of the tale is clearly representative of the realm of activity of those authentically engaged in the highest imaginative endeavors. Martin Roth refers to it as the "American Cockaigne" (161-62). It would be more correct to view Sleepy Hollow as the pastoral homeland envisioned by poets since the time of Virgil and defined by Leo Marx as a symbolic middle landscape between the extremes of both nature and civilization where the artist is most free in the imaginative quest for transcendent beauty and truth (71). Accordingly, Sleepy Hollow is removed from the mainstream of American civilization, being located in a secluded valley about two miles from Tarry Town. The narrator mentions it "with all possible laud; for it is in such little retired Dutch valleys . . . that population, manners, and customs, remain fixed" (144). But the distance from the village is not great, and history has touched the little valley, as its legends reveal. The Van Tassel barnyard evokes not the wildness of nature but the bounty and security achieved by its cultivation. The idyllic serenity of Sleepy Hollow reveals it as the sought-after homeland of the poet and man of letters. Its "uniform tranquility" induces not merely sleep but imaginative activity as well. All who come within its boundaries attain a "visionary propensity"; they "begin to grow imaginative—to dream dreams, and see apparitions" (142, 144). Hence the place abounds with all that Irving in "The Author's Account of Himself" finds generally lacking in the New World; it is a place of tales and legends, of "storied and poetical association" (77).
As Robert A. Bone has observed, Irving's epigraph, with its mention of drowsiness and dreams among castles in the clouds, also implies a connection between setting and the "imaginative faculty." The source of the quotation is James Thomson's The Castle of Indolence, which somewhat paradoxically both defends the Protestant work ethic and, in Bone's words, "deplores the loss of patronage which attends the passing of a cultured aristocracy" (169). Thus, even the epigraph provides a subtle allusion to the alienation of the genuine man of letters from an increasingly materialistic, utilitarian, and progressive society.
Ichabod Crane does not represent the man of letters in this sense, but rather a twofold threat to all that is symbolized by Sleepy Hollow. In his plans to acquire and sell the farm, Ichabod suggests the materialism and progressive idealism that are inherent in the work ethic and that threaten to suppress the imaginative faculty altogether. As the ungainly Ichabod (a name that means "inglorious" in Hebrew), he also represents the threat of the ersatz writers to subjugate art and letters to the pious utilitarianism and respectability of the work ethic, thus depriving themselves of "glory," of their profession's intrinsic relation to life's transcendent purpose. It is for these reasons that Ichabod's presence in the fertile valley suggests "the genius of famine descending upon the earth" (145).
The fact that Brom Bones is both the instrument of Ichabod's permanent exile from Sleepy Hollow and the inevitable successor to Old Baltus Van Tassel requires that some attention be given his briefly sketched character. Concerning Brom, no critical statement has been more brilliantly provocative than Martin Roth's suggestion that, while Ichabod is no artist but a petty capitalist, "a case could be made for Bones." A creator of legends, parodies, burlesques, and hoaxes, Brom is in his own right an artist "whose productions suggest Irving's own" (165). In the following paragraphs, I would like to elaborate upon Roth's observation.
Brom is no musclebound bully, but rather a vigorous youth with a puckish spirit and a joyful exuberance for life reminiscent of the child's vitality in Wordsworth's Ode: Intimations of Immortality. Neither a sorrowful Werther nor a sickly Fanshawe, Brom suggests the poet of the pastoral ideal in the harmony of his physical and imaginative liveliness. Broad shouldered and double jointed, he possesses "a bluff, but not unpleasant countenance, having a mingled air of fun and arrogance." There is "more mischief than ill-will in his composition," as well as a "strong dash of waggish good humor." He does not intimidate the residents of Sleepy Hollow but instead is the recipient of their admiration and good will, foremost in their games and contests, "the umpire in all disputes" (153-54). His attraction to Katrina is entirely natural, and, though his gallantries before her are not polished, they reveal an authentic devotion which Ichabod is not able to give (Hoffman 93-94). Widely praised for his knowledge and skill in horsemanship, Brom, mounted upon the aptly named Daredevil, much more nearly than Ichabod resembles Bellerophon.
When Ichabod begins to court Katrina, Brom's initial response suggests the effects on art of the ersatz writers' dominance, particularly the effects on Irving himself. Brom successfully courts the rural beauty Katrina, who symbolizes the ideal of artistic purity. Her attention, however, is swayed from his "uncouth gallantries" by the superficial refinements of Ichabod Crane just as the American literary scene was in Irving's day dominated by second-rate writers who lacked a valid conception of fiction. Though Brom possesses "a degree of rough chivalry in his nature," he is reduced to the masculine counterpart of Crane's effeminate superficiality. The latter's "obstinately pacific system" leaves Brom with "no alternative but to draw upon the funds of rustic waggery in his disposition, and to play off boorish practical jokes upon his rival" (156). Similarly, the young Irving, in a cultural milieu dominated by popular taste, had resorted to literary schemes and pranks, the burlesques, parodies, and satires which were his first literary productions. And, as in portions of [The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., ] he was sometimes not above catering to the popular taste for sentimentalism and didacticism (Hedges 115). Brom's frustration and desperate ploys are thus indicative of dissatisfaction on Irving's part, not only with the lack of truly literary production in his homeland but with his own resulting dilettantism as well.
However, the conclusion of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" records a wellspring of hope. In the very act of writingThe Sketch Book, Irving, having renounced his former dependence upon his family, was for the first time taking his writing seriously enough to stake his future on a literary career (Johnston 158-73). As Henry A. Pochmann has stated, he was in the process of changing "from a devil-may-care scribbler to a circumspect author"; moreover, he was making a unique contribution to the development of American literature, inventing with tales like "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" the genre that Hawthorne, Poe, and others would often find preferable to the much-abused novel (68, 72). Suggestively, Brom does not retreat from the field but rises to his full potential when his initial tactics prove ineffective. He proves himself as an artist and is victorious over Ichabod Crane. Whereas the latter merely relates the superstitions of his forefathers with gullibility and self-indulgent morbidity, Brom, like Irving, suddenly realizes a powerful creativity, fashioning a new legend from the stuff of legends. Brom's tale of his race with the Headless Hessian is a "thrice marvelous adventure" (164), clearly the best told at the Van Tassel gathering. Moreover, Brom does not tell such stories for idle or morbid pastime. He tells a story with a purpose. He wishes to rid Sleepy Hollow of the threat of Ichabod Crane, and the story is the means by which he primes his adversary's fear and hyperactive imagination. Thus Brom's method and purpose are analogues of Irving's own in writing "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Borrowing from German folk tales, Irving creates an American legend, the legend of Brom Bones's assumption of the identity of the Headless Hessian. Irving's purpose has an analogue in Brom's in that the author hopes that a genuine American literature, incorporating, interpreting, and even creating the American past, may somehow rise up to dispel those forces represented by Ichabod Crane. It is appropriate that in the climax of the tale Brom assumes the identity of the ghost of one who died fighting against the Revolution. In frightening his adversary, Brom is attempting, from a literal as well as a symbolic point of view, to save the pastoral homeland from the tide of progress, to avoid the unsettling changes that Rip Van Winkle encounters after sleeping through the Revolution.
The framework of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" also reflects Irving's concern with the problems of the man of letters in the modern world; moreover, it suggests a significant qualification of Brom's victory over Ichabod. To begin with, the author does much to objectify the storytelling process, as if desirous of making some comment about it. In the postscript the story of Brom and Ichabod emerges as a twice-told tale, actually several times removed from the author's personal existence. Diedrich Knickerbocker is the narrator, yet he is repeating a narrative that he overheard at a corporation meeting of New York City. He has expressed at the outset a concern with "being precise and authentic" (142), and he now assures the reader that the tale has been written "almost in the precise words" (385) in which it was originally told. Like Irving, Diedrich is a reteller of old tales. Like Brom, he is an analogue of the artist. Hence, the production entitled "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" consists of onion-skin layers of tales told and retold, especially when one remembers that the tale appears inThe Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. But Irving, Geoffrey, Diedrich, and the old man whose story Diedrich relates do not inhabit Sleepy Hollow as Brom does. All four live in the daylight world of the new republic, as the setting of the postscript reminds us. Knickerbocker's concern with accuracy suggests his (and Irving's) consciousness of living in a world in which the art of storytelling is looked upon with suspicion.
This suspicion, Knickerbocker informs us, is precisely what the pleasant old storyteller encounters. Although loudly applauded by his auditors (several of whom have fallen asleep during the narrative), he must defend the tale against "one tall, dry-looking old gentleman, with beetling eyebrows, who maintained a grave and rather severe face throughout." When the story is told, this gentleman reveals himself as a representative of the widespread public attitude toward fiction by demanding to know "the moral of the story, and what it went to prove." Although he does not seem to realize it, the answer is a parody of his expectations. The old storyteller constructs a nonsensical syllogism, juxtaposing unrelated morals and facetiously reducing his own tale to didacticism. All situations, he says, have advantages as well as disadvantages; toying with ghosts is a losing proposition; therefore, being refused the hand of an heiress means the satisfaction of ambitions. Ironically, the storyteller's critic is mollified by this purposefully nonsensical imitation of Poor Richard. But he then reveals the bias encouraged by the Scottish Common Sense philosophy by questioning the veracity of the tale. To this objection the storyteller sardonically replies, "Faith, sir, . . . as to that matter, I don't believe one-half of it myself" (385). With irony the storyteller suggests that meaning in art has nothing to do with reason or extractable maxims and does not depend upon its factualness. His triumph (and Irving's) is that of transcendent insight over common sense as the flippantly jarring tone of the storyteller's final reply suggests.
As earlier noted, several critics have interpreted Brom's triumph as merely a matter of wishful thinking. Martin Roth has gone so far as to suggest that in the postscript Irving acknowledges defeat, the storyteller's comment marking a sort of sardonic farewell to American letters (167-68). But it is my belief that the postscript represents a more noteworthy counterpart to Brom's victory over Ichabod. Just as Brom saves Sleepy Hollow, Irving saves (for himself, at least) the realm of art and letters. He does so by realizing that the ersatz authors and the pious, common sense detractors of genuine art may be dismissed as easily as Ichabod or as the storyteller's challenger. They pose no insuperable threat to the pastoral homeland of the poet, for it has never existed historically and, Irving suggests, was never meant to do so. After all, Katrina's firm refusal of Ichabod is assurance that Sleepy Hollow and all it stands for have never really been threatened. Throughout American history, many have looked forward to a historical realization of the so-called Republic of Letters (Simpson xiii, 267, passim). In "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Irving is concerned with repudiating this rarefied version of the American Dream, and the effect is a liberation of art and letters, not a farewell. Popular and financial success may elude the artist as the storyteller's shabbiness and sadly humorous expression suggest. But, even in democratic America, art does not depend upon widespread public acceptance, but rather upon the artist's integrity and devotion. The irony of Irving's victory is compounded by the fact that few American stories have won as much enduring popularity as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
1. In the earliest of these studies, Terence Martin states that Irving's attraction to reason, progress, and moral conservatism resulted in ambivalence toward imaginative characters who, though treated sympathetically as representative of the artist, invariably experience defeat because of their inability to control imagination. Thus, Ichabod Crane is chased out of Sleepy Hollow because of his uncontrollable superstition ("Rip, Ichabod, and the American Imagination"). John Clendenning has elaborated Martin's thesis to suggest that Crane represents the artist corrupted in his flight from reason by the imaginative excesses of the Gothic vogue and hence defeated by his own inability to bring imagination into harmony with real life. Also similar to Martin's interpretation is Allen Guttmann's insistence that the struggle between Ichabod and Brom Bones reflects Irving's ambivalence between the old and the new, between traditional hierarchical society and American democracy (represented by Brom). Robert A. Bone finds in Ichabod's defeat by the Headless Hessian a symbolic warning against the artist's corruption in America by a growing mercenary spirit, by "the relentless pressure of commodities on the American imagination" (167).
Several studies portray Ichabod in a decidedly unsympathetic manner. In From and Fable in American Fiction, Daniel G. Hoffman describes him as a sterile intellectual capable only of the emotions of fear and ambition, whereas Brom, the natural man, truly deserves Katrina because his feelings for her are authentic (83-96). Donald A. Ringe sees Ichabod as a New England progressive and speculator who invades a New York Dutch community symbolic of a traditional and stable society; his defeat is merely temporary, thus suggesting Irving's desires but not his expectations concerning the future of America. Most recent and most startlingly provocative is Martin Roth's interpretation of Brom Bones as an artist whose storytelling is, like the author's, an imaginative reworking of legend. Crane, in Roth's view, represents the spirit of petty capitalism that threatens the realm of "imaginative activity" as symbolized by Sleepy Hollow. Like Ringe, Roth sees Crane's defeat as merely wishful thinking on Irving's part (161-68).
2. For a thorough discussion of the connection between pious utilitarianism and the suspicion of the imagination in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, see Russell Fraser.
3. Quotations from The Sketch Book are taken from Washington Irving: Representative Selections, ed. Pochmann.
Abrams, M. H. The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1953.
Bone, Robert A. "Irving's Headless Hessian: Prosperity and the Inner Life." American Quarterly 15 (1963): 167-75.
Brown, Herbert Ross. The Sentimental Novel in America: 1789-1860 1940; rpt. New York: Pageant Books, Inc., 1959.
Charvat, William. The Origins of American Critical Thought: 1810-1835. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, and London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1936.
Clendenning, John. "Irving and the Gothic Tradition." Bucknell Review 12 (1964): 90-98. Reprinted in 1860-1974: A Century of Commentary on the Works of Washington Irving. Ed. Andrew B. Myers. Tarrytown, N.Y.: Sleepy Hollow Restorations, 1976, 379-87.
Fraser, Russell. The War against Poetry. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1970.
Guttman, Allen. "Washington Irving and the Conservative Imagination." American Literature 36 (1964): 165-73.
Hart, James D. The Popular Book: A History of America's Literary Taste. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1961.
Hedges, William L. Washington Irving: An American Study, 1802-1832. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1965.
Hoffman, Daniel G. Form and Fable in American Fiction. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1961.
Johnston, Johanna. The Heart That Would Not Hold: A Biography of Washington Irving. New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc., 1971.
Jones, Richard Foster. Ancients and Moderns: A Study of the Rise of the Scientific Movement in Seventeenth-Century England. 2nd ed. 1936; rpt. Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1961.
Madison, James. The Writings of James Madison. 9 vols. Ed. Gaillard Hunt. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1900-1910.
Martin, Terence. The Instructed Vision: Scottish Common Sense Philosophy and the Origins of American Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1961.
——. "Rip, Ichabod, and the American Imagination." American Literature 31 (1959): 137-49.
Marx, Leo. The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1964.
Mazzeo, Joseph Anthony. Renaissance and Revolution: The Remaking of European Thought. New York: Random House, 1965.
Orians, G. Harrison. "Censure of Fiction in American Romances and Magazines, 1789-1810." PMLA 52 (1937): 195-214.
Pochmann, Henry A. "Washington Irving: Amateur or Professional?" In Essays on American Literature in Honor of Jay B. Hubbell. Ed. Clarence Gohdes. Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press, 1967, 63-76.
Ringe, Donald A. "New York and New England: Irving's Criticism of American Society." American Literature 38 (1967): 455-67.
Roth, Martin. Comedy and America: The Lost World of Washington Irving. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1976.
Simpson, Lewis P. The Brazen Face of History: Studies in the Literary Consciousness of America. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1980.
Washington Irving: Representative Selections. Ed. Henry A. Pochmann. 1934; rpt. St. Clair Shores, Mich.: Scholarly Press, Inc., 1971.
Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky (essay date May 1985)
SOURCE: Rubin-Dorsky, Jeffrey. "The Value of Storytelling: 'Rip Van Winkle' and 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' in the Context of The Sketch Book." Modern Philology 82, no. 4 (May 1985): 393-406.
[In the following essay, Rubin-Dorsky discusses how "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" relate to the rest of the essays and stories collected in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.]
In the more than a century and a half of their existence, Washington Irving's two most famous stories, "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," have taken on a life of their own. They have been read, listened to, and, from the time of Joseph Jefferson's first staging of "Rip" to our own age of mass media, watched in various productions, by generations of adults and children alike. Yet relatively few people are aware of the fact that they were once—and, for that matter, still technically are—part of an apparently miscellaneous, but actually quite coherent and unified, collection of sketches, essays, and stories calledThe Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Published in America in seven irregular installments from June 1819 through September 1820 and in England in two volumes in February and July 1820,The Sketch Book became an international best-seller and brought its author a measure of fame unequaled by any other American writer of his era. Independently, neither the larger work nor the separate stories have been neglected: the importance ofThe Sketch Book in our literary history, especially in terms of the struggle for the recognition of American literature, has been documented, and "Rip" and "Sleepy Hollow" have both been accorded a wide variety and range of critical interpretation. But no one has tried to put the pieces back together again and to explore what possible significance there might be in the fact that "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" first made their entry into the world as leaves of Geoffrey Crayon'sSketch Book.
These two stories stand out from the collection because neither of them is about, or is narrated by, Irving's persona, Geoffrey Crayon.1 They are, ostensibly, the results of Diedrich Knickerbocker's antiquarian researches among the old Dutch families of New York: "Rip" is subtitled "a posthumous writing of Diedrich Knickerbocker," while "Sleepy Hollow" was supposedly "found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker." Both tales include postscripts—"Rip" has an introductory headnote as well—that sustain this guise by tracing the stories back to their origins and accounting for the ways in which they came to the attention of Knickerbocker in the first place. Irving, it seems, has gone to considerable lengths to make it explicit that Crayon is not passing off these stories as his own or claiming to have seen or witnessed in any way the events related within them; in other words, they are of a quite different order from the sketches and essays that form the rest of the collection. "It is a technical inconsistency," William Hedges has declared, "for Crayon to include in his sketch book stories ostensibly told by Diedrich Knickerbocker."2 But it may be worthwhile to consider the idea that Crayon himself does not have to provide the source of narrative consciousness in the tales in order for them to be a meaningful part of his sketchbook. Their ultimate significance may very well lie in the fact that they tend to reflect back on him anyway; when considered in the aggregate of The Sketch Book, they function in much the same way that the individual sketches do: they are part of the collection of impressions, thoughts, feelings, ideas, pictures, and portraits that reveal aspects of Geoffrey Crayon's personality. Like so many of Crayon's views and notions, the tales have been picked up along the route of his incessant travels, and like the finished sketches, they assume importance inThe Sketch Book because they are fundamentally expressive of Crayon's concerns. Above all, they address the question of what role the imagination is to play in the life of an early nineteenth-century American author.
InThe Sketch Book, Irving uses his Crayonesque persona to affirm the emotional and psychological value of storytelling. As the dupe of his own desires, Crayon is a humorous, sometimes mildly ridiculous figure, and in this way, Irving points to the differences between himself (as author) and his persona, making the reader aware of their disjunctions in consciousness: Crayon, we are reminded, lives inside Irving's fiction. As a narrative technique, this allowed Irving to achieve distance from his own experience; while he could share in Crayon's emotions, he could also separate himself from them. It is this sense of "separation" that provides a measure of ease and comfort for Irving by releasing him from the anxiety of failed expectations. And having gained control over his psychic/imaginative life, he included two stories in hisSketch Book that commented on this process: "Rip" emphasizes the need for true storytelling in a mysterious, unfathomable world, while "Sleepy Hollow" insists that, where experience is unthreatening, stories need bear no more truth than legends.
The Sketch Book is not a travelogue, or travel book, although Irving does adopt the travel motif as the premise for Crayon's journey. In appropriating the format of a series of travel sketches, Irving provided a ready framework on which to depict his/Crayon's various explorations, thereby presenting them for examination without revealing that they held a deeper meaning for him. Such a strategy points toward the conclusion thatThe Sketch Book is not a haphazard, but a focused, work of art and that a definite purpose informs the miscellany, although it is all but obscured behind Irving's casualness about the aesthetic structure of the book.3 When Crayon explains that in his wanderings he was more interested in "nooks and corners and bye places . . . cottages, and landscapes, and obscure ruins," than in famous spectacles and attractions, the reader has his first clue that this trip to England is not on the usual order of sightseeing. Characteristically, Crayon then does a bit of feinting—but, shrewdly, not without ironically reinforcing his purpose—as he declares in mock overstatement: "My heart almost fails me at finding how my idle humor has led me aside from the great objects studied by every regular traveller who would make a book."4 Thus, while seeming to apologize for his "idle humor," he actually indicates that there is more to be found in this collection of sketches than an account of random travels. This process of selectivity, distinguishingThe Sketch Book from other travel accounts, is also designed to inform the reader that the stock emotional responses to European antiquity, evinced by most travelers, are not to be expected in these pages.5 Emotion is definitely a part of what Crayon seeks, but since it is linked to Irving's deepest needs and longings, it is a far cry from the sentiment expressed by the American tourist abroad.
For all the "youthful promise" of America, Irving wrote, Europe offered "masterpieces of art, the refinements of highly cultivated society, the quaint peculiarities of ancient and local custom." "Europe was rich in the accumulated treasures of age"; thus, it "held forth the charms of storied and poetical association." Such attractions were undoubtedly appealing to one who longed to "escape . . . from the commonplace realities of the present, and lose [him]self among the shadowy grandeurs of the past" (p. 9). Most commentators onThe Sketch Book have quoted these lines as support for their assumption that as a romantic antiquarian, sentimental traveler, and aspiring author—not to mention a Federalist supporter with aristocratic sympathies—Irving sought out a Europe (specifically, England) that was very much the antithesis of a progressive and prosaic American society.6 By itself, however, this explanation fails to provide real illumination since it does not adequately delineate the nature of Crayon's response to the Old World. England's call to Crayon strikes a much deeper chord and whispers to a more profound emotion than either romantic nostalgia for the past or sentimental attachment to the mother country.
In addition to the temporal quality of Old World scenery,7 the great charm of the English rural landscape is "the moral feeling that seems to pervade it." Crayon is here groping his way toward a fundamental principle that he finds operative in English culture and society and that he discovers is epitomized in the English landscape: "It is associated in the mind with ideas of order, of quiet, of sober well-established principles, of hoary usage and reverend custom. Every thing seems to be the growth of ages of regular, and peaceful existence" (p. 54). Here, in his sketch of "Rural Life in England," Crayon articulates a concept of harmony and continuity that extends beyond the material considerations of his homeland into an area of spiritual significance: the English are committed to preserving whatever had value in the past and transmitting it to future generations. Together the common features of the English landscape—
The old church of remote architecture, with its low massive portal; its gothic tower; its windows rich with tracery and painted glass in scrupulous preservation; its stately monuments of warriors and worthies of the olden time, ancestors of the present lords of the soil; its tombstones recording successive generations of sturdy yeomanry, whose progeny still plow the same fields and kneel at the same altar. The parsonage, a quaint irregular pile, partly antiquated, but repaired and altered in the tastes of various ages and occupants. The style and footpath leading from the church yard, across pleasant fields and along shady hedge rows, according to an immemorial right of way. The neighboring village, with its venerable cottages, its public green sheltered by trees under which the forefathers of the present race have sported. The antique family mansion, standing apart in some little rural domain, but looking down with a protecting air on the surrounding scene.
—"evince a calm and settled security, and hereditary transmission of home bred virtues and local attachments, that speak deeply and touchingly for the moral character of the nation." Crayon more than admires the "moral character" of a people who take on themselves the profound responsibilities of bequeathing to the future what they have received from the past; in their presence he reaches out to connect himself to the counterforce against the main thrust of life, a force that restrains and orders the process of change constantly at work in the world.
As we discover more of the personality of Geoffrey Crayon, we see it mirrors Irving's own, where disparate elements are held in creative conjunction: the freedom of imaginative exploration attends, and is dependent on, the search for a secure, safe mooring in a life of continual flux. Crayon's tour in England thus reveals itself as both "an unconscious quest for order and stability"8 and a release of imaginative energy. It is not surprising, therefore, that he describes the associations of the English landscape and the character of the English people with the same word: "moral." It is, in its most elevated sense, quintessentially the right word for the imaginative quality that Crayon seeks. He is looking for the essence at the heart of England that is responsible for its meaning: that which provides stability and order in its traditions, maintains the principle of continuity through its institutions, and manifests itself in the noblespirited gentry "endowed with high notions of honor and independence." In his account of John Bull's "family mansion," Irving points to the very element that makes the edifice a metaphor for the psychic configuration of the England that he is pursuing. It is an "old castellated manor house," which "has been built upon no regular plan, but is a vast accumulation of parts, erected in various tastes and ages": "If you point out any part of the building as superfluous, [John Bull] insists that it is material to the strength or decoration of the rest, and the harmony of the whole, and swears, that the parts are so built into each other, that if you pull down one, you run the risk of having the whole about your ears" (pp. 251, 252). This sense of a varied but unified structure, informed throughout by a principle of cohesiveness that insures that each part is vital to the whole—and in an important way representative of it—is inherent in Irving's figurative conception of England (and mirrored in the structure ofThe Sketch Book itself) and allows Crayon to believe, or to hope, that in each of his experiences he will discover a segment that will provide a key to the whole. It all adds up to Crayon's search for a mythic England, a struggle to formulate an imaginative England that always exists but never really existed. That is why in sketch after sketch Crayon's primary movement is described in terms of penetration, into the dark recesses of the city (the "nooks and corners and bye places") or the rarely ventured-into areas of the country (the "cottages, and landscapes, and obscure ruins"), away from the common, the everyday, and the known, into the heart of the unknown, all in the hope of achieving a privileged glance into the inner reality of the English soul.
As an outsider—as he describes himself in "The Voyage," "a stranger in the land" (p. 15)—Crayon's main objective is somehow to get inside the timelessness of England via an imaginative projection into the very fiber of its cultural and spiritual heritage. The sketches of London experience illustrate this especially well, for in these we see him losing himself in reverie as he meditates on the English mythos. The problem, however, is that all these forays into characteristic and immortal parts of Old England inevitably end in disappointment and loss. In Eastcheap, for example, where Crayon has made a "pilgrimage" in search of the old Boar's Head Tavern and the pleasure of "treading the halls once vocal with [Dame Quickly's] mirth" (p. 92), he finds neither the Boar's Head nor any of its remnants. Comic futility, rather than the hoped-for poetic reverie, is the result of the journey, with Irving rendering the whole in mock heroic fashion, as if Crayon were a latter-day Odysseus searching for a way home or a modern Parsifal pursuing the Grail. A foolish victim of his obsessions, Crayon ends up staring at a prized local relic, an iron tobacco box, on the lid of which is a picture of Falstaff and his cronies—hardly the object to yield hidden meaning or to precipitate visions of timeless order. Here, and even more prevalently elsewhere in the book, the epiphany that Crayon has been anticipating manages to elude him just as he thinks he is about to achieve it at last. Thus,The Sketch Book reveals that contact with Old World customs and hidden urban antiquity cannot lead to transcendent order. The feeling of tradition informing the cultural heritage of the past is beyond the grasp of one who, like Crayon, has not been conditioned and nurtured by it.
ButThe Sketch Book also demonstrates that, for Irving, authorship offers a possible compensation for the experience of alienation and loss. In "The Boar's Head Tavern" sketch, the counterparts to Crayon are the neighbors about Eastcheap who "believe that Falstaff and his merry crew actually lived and revelled there" (p. 98). As with their dubious relics, their understanding of history, fact, and truth is distorted, commingled as it is with legend and anecdote. They live, in a sense, inside a fiction of their own creation, which Crayon cannot fathom; destined to play the role of observer—"a mere spectator of other men's fortunes and adventures and how they play their parts"9—the best he can do in this regard is fabricate an emotion, devise an illusion, or create his own fiction. The latter activity proved, at least temporarily, to be the most satisfying. It was not an entirely imaginary world that he was creating but, rather, a coloring of the one he knew; his experience, fleshed out by moods, tones, and, occasionally, methods of presentation borrowed from older authors, was related to the reader by the age-old technique of telling a story. Having been excluded from participation in the continuous flow of an ordered society, Geoffrey Crayon discovered that storytelling itself was an uncircumscribed, timeless activity that could satisfy his hunger for cultural continuity.
With these ideas as a context, it may now be possible to examine Irving's two famous stories in terms of their relevance to his understanding, as exemplified inThe Sketch Book, of the place of fiction in his life.
In a headnote that serves as an introduction to the story of "Rip Van Winkle," Crayon attests to the "scrupulous accuracy" of Diedrich Knickerbocker's work (p. 28). Then, at the conclusion of the narrative, Crayon intrudes just briefly—one might say almost compulsively—to inform the reader that the tale he has just read "is an absolute fact, narrated with [Knickerbocker's] usual fidelity," fidelity in this instance meaning that Knickerbocker has presented the tale exactly as he heard it. To support these assertions, Crayon subjoins a note that Knickerbocker himself had originally appended to the tale in which he affirms the verifiability, indeed, the value of the story: "The story of Rip Van Winkle may seem incredible to many, but nevertheless I give it my full belief, for I know the vicinity of our old Dutch settlements to have been very subject to marvellous events and appearances. . . . The story . . . is beyond the possibility of doubt" (p. 41). These mechanics, by which Crayon insists on the truthfulness and actuality of the story, seem heavy-handed, contrived, ironic, especially when one considers that the central events of "Rip Van Winkle" (a meeting with Hendrik Hudson's crew and a sleep of twenty years' duration) are inexplicable in logical terms. It is possible that Irving is engaging here in what Haskell Springer calls a "technique of self-contradiction"—the "story proper and the comments upon the tale" exert pressures in "opposite directions," so that together they wind up asserting the "reality" of seemingly unreal events—to alert the reader to the essentially fictional character of this world.10 Yet, while this may satisfy as an explanation of Irving's literary posturing, it hardly provides an adequate gloss on Crayon's psychology, for in the urgency with which he expresses his belief in the story, Crayon reveals that there is something else at stake here. If "Rip Van Winkle" is "true," then perhaps that truth is to be found, not within its own borders, but in its relationship to the pattern of Crayon's experience (and therefore Irving's) as it is delineated inThe Sketch Book. 11
It is usually assumed that the central, most significant event in "Rip Van Winkle" is Rip's encounter with the odd-looking Dutch sailors, Hendrik Hudson and his crew of the Half-Moon, and his subsequent twenty-year sleep. But these events are not the most troubling for the protagonist of the story, nor are they really disturbing to the reader, who tends to accept them as a given mystery. The real "what happened," and, as Hedges describes it, "the closest thing to terror" in the story, occurs when Rip awakens to a world he does not recognize.12 It is at this point that he becomes disoriented: faced with an incomprehensible reality, he feels overwhelmingly lost and utterly alone. Returning to the village, he discovers that his house has "gone to decay," and when he calls for his family, his voice is met only with "silence." His despair intensifies when he realizes that the village and its inhabitants have also undergone a metamorphosis, the result, primarily, of the Revolution. "Larger and more populous," the village is a reflection of an advancing America: "There were rows of houses he had never seen before, and those which had been his familiar haunts had disappeared. Strange names were over the doors—strange faces at the windows—every thing was strange" (p. 36). The alterations affect Rip to the extent that he believes both he and the world around him must be "bewitched." Nothing of the predictable, comfortable world remains—even Rip's loyalty to George III is outdated. Most frightening of all, Rip perceives that he himself has been supplanted; his son, a "precise counterpart of himself" when he was young, is the Rip Van Winkle everyone knows. In the face of this enormity, Rip is confused, confounded, bewildered.
As critics have previously noted, the latter part of the story centers around Rip's identity crisis.13 On his return to the village, Rip expected to find something soothing, something recognizable, but, instead, discovers that he is out of his time, that the world of "drowsy tranquility" is gone forever. In a mysterious, irrational world, in which the only constant factor is change, Rip undergoes a privileged rebirth into the "storyteller."14 The "true" nature of the experience is of secondary importance in the larger scheme of the tale. This is implied in the suggestion that Rip may not have actually entered the womblike "amphitheatre" in the Catskills but simply have fallen asleep and dreamed of his encounter with the old men, whose images, we are told, were the exact duplicates of "the figures in an old Flemish painting" that Rip had seen hanging in the village parson's parlor (p. 34). In this respect, the fact that the "dream" occurs during a sleep of twenty years makes the state of events in the story almost completely ungraspable: as Hedges has explained, "to see the experience as a dream is to have its unreality emphasized."15 However, we as readers do not share the doubts of some of Rip's auditors, who maintain that he was clearly "out of his head" for twenty years. To them, the story becomes nonsense. But their commonsense approach, their skepticism, is naive in comparison to our understanding of the story. It is a blunder on their part not to acknowledge that doubt and belief combine to form the listening/reading experience.16 The story exists precisely because there is a quality about experience that must be conveyed—call it magic, mystery, incomprehensibility, or whatever—and we as readers, as important an audience as Rip's pals, realize that common sense is unnecessary. The story prevails on a level far removed from such logic.
As a result of having a story to tell, Rip is accepted into the community, and although he has trouble comprehending "the strange events that had taken place during his torpor" (p. 40), he is reconciled to them by the very fact of his new identity. His story, in this respect, is a palliative, alleviating the anxiety of his loss; even more, it is a compensation for unsettling changes. Having been freed from his role as henpecked husband, he has been awarded another reality, so palpable to him, and eventually to others, that it becomes part of the collective consciousness of the old Dutch inhabitants. The new reality is also the story itself (what Crayon meant by insisting on its "truth"), in that it has a timeless, imaginative existence of its own. Knickerbocker corroborates this, for the tale that he has left behind among his papers is Rip's very own, heard directly from his lips: "He used to tell his story to every stranger that arrived at Mr. Doolittle's Hotel. He was observed at first to vary on some points, every time he told it, which was doubtless owing to his having so recently awaked. It at last settled down precisely to the tale I have related and not a man woman or child in the neighbourhood but knew it by heart" (p. 41). Moreover, in his appended note, Knickerbocker further states that he talked with Rip himself and on that occasion he was perfectly "rational and consistent." Thus a life has been generated that transcends the confines of such sets of terms as "real and imaginary," "fact and fiction." From Rip Van Winkle's tale through Diedrich Knickerbocker's writings to Geoffrey Crayon's sketchbook: the story is "beyond the possibility of doubt."
The value of the story, however, is even greater than the fact of its existence or the reconciliation it allows Rip. All the changes that Rip perceived were the work of history, whose ability to bring these about is, as John Lynen has said, "summed up in the great political event [of] revolution."17 Yet the reader may legitimately wonder on which level of reality the alterations occurred; in what stream of human time-consciousness do the changes register? Prerevolutionary politics was confined to the perusal of an antiquated newspaper and the leisurely discussions this activity engendered, while postrevolutionary politics involves the thunder of an election-day debate. Agrarianism has given way to burgeoning, and somewhat crass, commercialism. But beneath these cultural changes there is still an unexamined loyalty to the village patriarch and a fundamental need to engage in work. Irving suggests that the apparent magnitude of the changes is just that—apparent, that is, on the surface. While the Union Hotel has supplanted the old inn, the sign at the door has only been transformed so that George Washington emerges out of George III—some form of political leadership/authority will always be in order. The old Dutch worthy Van Vedder is gone, as is the giant tree that provided such lovely shade for the inn; in their place we find the unappealing Yankee and a bare liberty pole, yet Rip and his friends have as little trouble accommodating themselves to this environment as their predecessors did to the prerevolutionary scene. The real, profound changes are the ongoing, perpetual ones, those of mortality, "growing up and growing old."18 This type of alteration is the result of neither historical nor political processes but rather of the natural ones of birth and death, growth and decay, which never cease and, in effect, make one period of time the equivalent of any other. The variations in the exterior of Rip's society, then, when viewed against these eternal patterns, are only modifications of appearance or form, while the deepest structures remain permanent, everlasting truths of existence. Thus, much as Van Vedder once was, Rip is now "reverenced as one of the patriarchs of the village" (p. 40), and Rip, Jr., is the spitting image of his ragged father.
Rip is a storyteller, and his tale—a fable about the nature of experience—poses the question of whether there is such a thing as true perception/knowledge. As a coherent sequence, a concatenation of events moving from a beginning to an end, Rip's story has its immediate, temporal order. But storytelling itself is a timeless, eternal activity. It exists on the same plane, and is part of the same time consciousness, as those immutable natural patterns. People have, from time immemorial, constructed stories to explain their experience. This process, this myth making, allows one to participate in, and to reflect, the unalterable rhythms and sequences that form the nucleus of all existence. Irving's discovery of this "truth," mirrored here in "Rip," was crucial, for it enabled him to believe that a second principle of time exists wherein change is circumscribed and ordered in terms of a cyclical development in man and nature. This is the principle of continuity, which affirms that some idea of permanence "transcends the apparent flux of life" and that mutability is therefore not the ultimate meaning of experience.19 Without this realization, his imagination would have completely faltered. No wonder, then, that Geoffrey Crayon included "Rip Van Winkle" in his sketchbook since it absolutely attests to the necessity and value of "story."
That "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" bears the description "legend" rather than "story" is neither whimsical nor accidental but a significant ploy on Irving's part, both in terms of the type of community portrayed there and in the context of the argument just presented. Unlike a story, a legend does not try to approximate or recreate worldly experience but is a "waking use of dream concepts that combines the real and the unreal to create a new, distinctive, imaginative reality properly existing on the frontier of consciousness."20 The world of a legend inhabits neither the plane of pure fantasy nor that of history; its terrain is not a complete and totally unrecognizable fairyland, nor is it the world of our daily lives. A legend is not a story: although it may be told and retold, shaped and reshaped, it does not embody or reflect on the patterns of human endeavor. Its pictures, its images, are not those of our conscious experience; rather, they are similar to those of "unauthenticated narratives, folk-embroidered from historical material. 21Thus, the world of a legend, and the figures portrayed within it, may have enjoyed, once upon a time, a historical reality, but, having ascended to the plateau of legend, they now bear only slight resemblance to their former selves. Here, Irving's insistence on legend is supported by his epigraph, which recreates the indolent mood of the Hollow itself—that of neither the real world of fact nor the mimetically real world of story:
A pleasing land of drowsy head it was Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye; And of gay castles in the clouds that pass, Forever flushing round a summer sky.
The outstanding feature of the community of Sleepy Hollow is that it is a self-contained world, where "population, manners, and customs, remain fixed, while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by [it] unobserved" (p. 274). In this valley of "uniform tranquility," "one of the quietest places in the world," a healthy, reciprocal balance with nature is maintained. The characters of the tale, who "live in an organic time, ruled by the seasons,"22 are content and completely resistant to progress. There is no internal conflict in Sleepy Hollow, and the only tensions that exist are those introduced by Ichabod Crane, who is in all respects an outsider, one never quite accepted into the community. Even the disturbing aspects of nature here turn out to be no more than comfortable titillations of the fancy; such supposedly supernatural occurrences as the Headless Horseman and the often repeated stories of frightening apparitions inhabiting every part of the landscape are only tales told for amusement on a winter's night.
The people of Sleepy Hollow are as much a part of the landscape as the natural growth of the valley; indeed, they are imagined by the narrator to be "still . . . vegetating in its sheltered bosom." But this is not surprising since the Hollow amply provides for all their needs. Baltus Van Tassel, the representative farmer of the region, is pictured as a "thriving, contented, liberal hearted farmer" (p. 278). He does not seek to extend his domain beyond the "boundaries of his own farm; [for] within those every thing was snug, happy, and well conditioned." Such farmers as Van Tassel enjoy the full gifts of nature—the "treasures of the farm," which Irving, in a justly famous passage, describes with glee—because they appreciate nature's abundance and desire to live only in harmonious intimacy with it.
Given this presentation of the "sleepy," "dreamy" community as a land of plenty, Ichabod Crane is clearly cast in the role of the despoiler, although traditionally he has been characterized as "imaginative" and his routing by Brom Bones as "a victory for common sense and hardheaded practicality over imaginative indulgence."23 From the first time that he comes on this scene of nature's munificence, where he is described as "the genius of famine descending upon the earth" (p. 274), Ichabod is seen as an intruder. As Herbert Smith has noted, images of "eating, consumption, destruction," are closely associated with all his actions.24 While his pursuit of Katrina Van Tassel's affections may be likened humorously to a man "carv[ing] his way to the centre of a Christmas pie," he is in fact guilty of a serious offense: he neither values nor desires to preserve the plenty that surrounds him. In another famous passage, Irving shows that Ichabod appreciates the barnyard animals only as luscious edibles:
In his devouring mind's eye, he pictured to himself every roasting pig running about with a pudding in his belly, and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a coverlet of crust; the geese were swimming in their own gravy; and the ducks pairing cosily in dishes, like snug married couples, with a decent competency of onion sauce; in the porkers he saw carved out the future sleek side of bacon, and juicy relishing ham; not a turkey, but he beheld daintily trussed up, with its gizzard under its wing, and, peradventure, a necklace of savoury sausages; and even bright chanticleer himself lay sprawling on his back, in a side dish, with uplifted claws, as if craving that quarter, which his chivalrous spirit disdained to ask while living.
Although the felicity of Irving's description again points to the humor in Ichabod's vision, he is nevertheless a threat to the life of natural harmony. Given the opportunity, he would neither husband the resources nor conserve the riches of Sleepy Hollow but exploit them by turning the self-sustaining farm of Van Tassel into a capitalistic enterprise: "His heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea, how they might be readily turned into cash, and the money invested in immense tracts of wild land, and shingle palaces in the wilderness" (p. 280).
That these actions generate no great anxiety either in the people of the tale or in the reader attests to the basic legendary quality of the fiction. (There is nothing, e.g., that approaches Rip's moment of fear in the Catskills or his despair on reentering the village.) Sleepy Hollow is not an imitation of the real world; thus, a disturbing presence such as Ichabod may be treated comically, for he is easily eliminated. Though he would like to possess the land and enjoy a "wellfed repose in the drowsy hollow,"25 this dream is denied to him because he is an alien force, a destroyer of nature—such a particularly human trait has no place in this world. He is routed by what we as readers know to be only Brom Bones and a pumpkin. Yet the headless ghost he sees on his midnight ride is, perhaps, the consequence of more than just his belief in supernatural stories; it could very well represent, on a deeper level, the guilt and fear of a betrayer, the violator of the land and the dreamy principles of Sleepy Hollow. Katrina Van Tassel's rejection of Ichabod as a suitor and his subsequent flight signify the triumph of the pastoral community over its potential exploiter. It is thus a perfectly fitting conclusion to Ichabod's career that he should have found his way to New York, the archetypal center of big-city greed and corruption, where he "kept school and studied law at the same time; [was] admitted to the bar, turned politician, electioneered, [wrote] for the newspapers, and finally [was] made a Justice of the Ten Pound Court" (p. 296).
Sleepy Hollow is a safe place. When the supernatural, so often discussed and debated, finally appears, we are not frightened; when the potentially dangerous, but more, the inexplicable occurs, we are not troubled or disrupted. In "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," we know what really happened to Ichabod Crane. But in "Rip Van Winkle," we can never be sure that we understand what took place in the Catskill Mountains; we will always be awed, mystified, and continually disturbed by Rip's overwhelming sense of loss on returning to his native village. The story reinforces the idea that experience is often an incomprehensible and complex mystery, compelling yet baffling. The eternal appeal of "Rip" has everything to do with this sense of mystery, but in "Sleepy Hollow" there are no mysteries or psychological complexities, for all its actions are clearly explainable in rational terms. It seems odd, then, and somewhat paradoxical, that "Rip Van Winkle" is a "story," insisting on its own truthfulness and actuality, and "Sleepy Hollow" a "legend," existing on the borderline of the conscious and the unconscious mind.
Several interpretations have been offered for what the word "legend" in the title "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" actually means in relationship to the tale itself. It may refer to "the misadventures of Ichabod Crane"; it can also be considered as "alluding to the fact that no matter how rationally accountable Ichabod's experience appears to us, it is legendary to the drowsy people of Sleepy Hollow"; in addition, the title may refer "not at all to Ichabod's exploits, but to the old legend of the Headless Hessian [who was supposed to have lived at one time] which the schoolmaster heard from the residents of the Hollow." Each view is acceptable, and each in its turn supports the ultimate assertion of "the power of fictional literature" to enhance the value of life for imaginative people.26 However, it is also possible to insist that the "legend" is Sleepy Hollow itself. As an actual geographic entity, as a community, Sleepy Hollow could never have existed, for its harmony, its somnolence, its peaceful coexistence with the forces of nature, are, if anything, prelapsarian in character. Our enjoyment of the tale is, to a certain extent, based on this recognition, which is one reason why the "Postscript," in which the "truthfulness" of the tale is attacked by a rather decrepit old man, is presented in a bemused, mockingly humorous tone, so contrary to the earnestness of Knickerbocker's note at the conclusion of "Rip." The pompous old fool, unable to accept the tale as amusement, is confounded by the storyteller, who, in exaggerated motions of deference, offers this grave listener a purposely ridiculous accounting of the tale. "[S]orely puzzled by the ratiocination of the syllogism," the latter has missed the whole implication of both the "legend" and the storyteller's joke, which is repeated in the final line of the "Postscript" as he mockingly responds to the dry old man's doubts about its validity: "Faith, sir, . . . I don't believe one half of it myself" (p. 297). Truthfulness, applicability, or psychological appropriateness is to be neither expected from nor demanded of the world of "Sleepy Hollow." 27
In "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," the storyteller, from whom Diedrich Knickerbocker heard the tale, is not dependent on his story for anything more than as a vehicle for entertainment; indeed, at the "corporation meeting of the ancient city of Manhattoes," where it was first related, there was a great deal of "laughter and approbation." The "legend" need not be true in the way that Rip's story has to be, for nothing discernible has happened to the storyteller, while in Rip's case, the whole question of his identity was involved. For Rip, then, the story lends form and coherence to the experience, thereby making it psychologically acceptable. In the legendary world of Sleepy Hollow, thought, effort, and experience come to fruition and reside in the sense of something familiar and comforting in nature, but in the fictional world of Rip Van Winkle—and the real world of Washington Irving—this was not the situation. The failure of mind and landscape to merge in harmonious conjunction, and the world's indifference to all longing and desire, made the efficacy of experience doubtful, and not infrequently caused pain and despair; it also posed the problem of whether there was some way to counteract the acute sense of loss that accompanied this recognition. Like Rip, Geoffrey Crayon fashioned a story out of his own experience, and paradoxically, by so doing, he was able to make the connections between fact and fiction, between existence in the mutable world and the unchanging foundations of all human endeavor.28 Experience, therefore, was not lost: it became a story, and the story took its place in the ongoing process of life. And like his alter egos in this sense, Washington Irving also constructed little fictions out of his own experience and quite cleverly made it seem as if they were just a series of sketches that one might come across as he casually flipped through the pages of an artist's sketch pad.
* * *
"Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" taken together reinforce the belief that it was fiction itself, rather than any of the illusions that Crayon invented and then sought to perpetuate, that served as Irving's compensation for the loss of, and the failure to make connections to, the past.The Sketch Book verifies that Irving did find a measure of aesthetic satisfaction and that he did glimpse the meaning and value of storytelling. Yet it also testifies to the fact—in such sketches as "The Art of Book-Making" and "The Mutability of Literature," which dramatize his anxieties about fiction and authorship—that he could not embrace these absolutely and that he did not always make the imaginative leap of faith across what he feared was the impermanence of his medium. As an American writer in 1820, Irving was not able, or for that matter willing, to trust fiction to provide the sustenance that he sought from the principle of continuity operative in the world. WhileThe Sketch Book shows the development of a form that permitted Irving to tell stories about himself and his experiences, and illustrates the verification of that process in "Rip" and "Sleepy Hollow," the psychological satisfaction that it brought seemed to him not much more than a small pocket of stability and order, constantly threatened by the large forces of change that surrounded him. The solution inThe Sketch Book to the dilemma of the mutable world is imaginative, but nagging doubts persisted as to whether there was not yet the possibility of achieving this order in the world itself. Given Irving's particular psychology and the American skepticism concerning fiction in the early nineteenth century, one can see why he was not yet willing to declare the world lost and place his trust solely in the imagination. It is doubtful, moreover, whether Irving ever reached that point in his career as a writer. In the history of American literature, that development—often referred to as a "renaissance"—would have to wait several more years to occur.
1. The other full-fledged tale (as opposed to the sketches) in the collection, "The Spectre Bridegroom," also does not belong to Crayon outright; he has picked it up at a country inn and is merely repeating verbatim what he has overheard.
2. William Hedges, "Irving, Hawthorne, and the Image of the Wife," in Washington Irving Reconsidered: A Symposium, ed. Ralph M. Aderman (Hartford, Conn., 1969), p. 25; italics are Hedges's. Hedges has suggested that, as a "unity of interest and feeling" develops in The Sketch Book, it does so to the extent "that one finally wants to read 'Rip Van Winkle' and 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,' if not as stories told by Crayon instead of Knickerbocker, then at least as stories that have touched Crayon almost personally" ("Washington Irving: The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.," in Landmarks of American Writing, ed. Henning Cohen [New York, 1969], p. 60).
3. Irving also used the format of travel writings as a means of assuring commercial appeal and audience response. And in order to keep his readers' attention, Irving carefully designed each individual number of the original Sketch Book so as to achieve the greatest variety in its offerings. It is important to note, however, that when they were brought together between the covers of one book (in the Author's Revised Edition, published by Putnam in 1848), whatever tightness of structure each had originally achieved was to a great extent lost. Thus, the miscellaneous character of the collection prevails, which is very much the way Irving wanted it. Yet it is a mistake to believe that, because of this apparent lack of aesthetic structure, there is no informing purpose to Crayon's travels or that a pattern of "interest and feeling" does not emerge.
4. Washington Irving, "The Author's Account of Himself," in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., ed. Haskell Springer (Boston, 1978), pp. 10, 9. All future references to this edition will be cited in parentheses in the text.
5. Paul R. Baker, in The Fortunate Pilgrims: Americans in Italy, 1800-1860 (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), pp. 28-29, writes that by Irving's time so many travelers used guidebooks that these became not only guides for what to see on one's journey but also indicators as to the appropriate emotional responses to the scenery, manners, and customs of the people and the artwork as well.
6. See, among others, Lewis Leary, "Washington Irving," in Six Classic American Writers: An Introduction, ed. Sherman Paul (Minneapolis, 1970), pp. 73-79; and Perry Miller, in the afterword to the Signet Classic ed. of The Sketch Book (New York, 1961), pp. 376-77.
7. This is especially significant when one considers, in Donald Ringe's words, "the absence of a temporal dimension in the American landscape"; see The Pictorial Mode: Space and Time in the Art of Bryant, Irving, and Cooper (Lexington, Ky., 1971), pp. 207-9.
8. Hedges, "Washington Irving: The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.," p. 62.
9. Irving used as an inscription on the title page of The Sketch Book a quotation from Burton in which he characterizes himself as a "spectator": "I have no wife nor children, good or bad, to provide for. A mere spectator of other men's fortunes and adventures, and how they play their parts; which methinks are diversely presented unto me, as from a common theatre or scene."
10. Haskell Springer, "Creative Contradictions in Irving," in Aderman, ed. (n. 2 above), pp. 14-15. Springer argues that both "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" belong to that middle ground "'between fact and fiction,' partaking of both to produce something better than either" (p. 15). For Irving, therefore, imaginative experience existed "on the borderline between two states of mind." While this is generally accurate, it is important to see that "Rip" and "Sleepy Hollow" actually occupy different levels of imaginative terrain because the "realities" they express correspond to extremely divergent psychological states ("Rip" is a form of realism, while "Sleepy Hollow" is "make-believe") and therefore demand different imaginative conceptions.
11. Springer suggests something along these lines when he writes that "the achievement of truth, though its importance is primarily literary, has personal and societal implications as well" (p. 15).
12. William Hedges, Washington Irving: An American Study, 1802-1832 (Baltimore, 1965), p. 140.
13. See, e.g., Terence Martin, "Rip, Ichabod, and the American Imagination," American Literature 31 (1959): 142; Hedges, Washington Irving, p. 140; and Springer, p. 16.
14. Both Hedges (Washington Irving, p. 140) and Springer (p. 16) note this, though neither explores the full significance of the transformation.
15. Hedges, Washington Irving, p. 139.
16. John Lynen, The Design of the Present: Essays on Time and Form in American Literature (New Haven, Conn., 1969), p. 157.
17. Ibid., p. 159.
19. See Ringe, pp. 164ff., for a discussion of the commitment of Irving, Bryant, and Cooper to the idea of continuity, through either a cyclical development or a providential ordering of things to some important end.
20. Springer, p. 16.
21. See the definition of "legend" in Dictionary of World Literary Terms, ed. Joseph T. Shipley, 3d ed. (Boston, 1970), pp. 74-75.
22. In "The Spell of Nature in Irving's Famous Stories" (in Aderman, ed. [n. 2 above], pp. 18-21), Herbert F. Smith gives an unusual reading of "Rip" and "Sleepy Hollow" in the context of the "relationship between literature as a cultural force and the history of the conservation movement in America" (p. 18). In this way he is able to illuminate the special relationship between the characters and events of Irving's two tales and the natural surroundings Irving gives them. Accordingly, the concept of time in Sleepy Hollow is organic because the only sense of temporal movement in this "sleepy region" is the change of seasons (p. 20).
23. Springer (n. 10 above), p. 17; Martin (n. 13 above), p. 144. Smith, on the other hand, refers to Ichabod as an "anti-conservationist principle" (p. 20).
24. Smith, p. 21.
25. Hedges, "Irving, Hawthorne, and the Image of the Wife," p. 25. For Hedges, this is symbolic of Ichabod's wanting "permanent occupancy of the maternal womb." Sleepy Hollow, a safe, secluded place, is the material equivalent of that fantasy. However, the problem here is that such a fantasy includes more than simply residing there. Ichabod, the outsider, desires not just to inhabit the Hollow but to ravage it, while those who live there by right of birth preserve what sustains them.
26. Springer, p. 17. These explanations are in accord with Springer's overall thesis that, since everything in the story can be rationally accounted for, the title uses the word "legend" and not "history" or "fact" because Irving was employing a purposely self-contradictory technique to leave the reader (as he also does in "Rip") somewhere between a real and a fabulous world. Again, while this is true, it does not go far enough in making distinctions between the qualities of the two imagined worlds.
27. As Springer argues, there is no need for "striving after logic and rational explanation for that which legitimately exists in another realm" (p. 17).
28. Geoffrey also might have seen a parallel between his own experience and Ichabod's. Like Crane, who cannot make a place for himself in the community of Sleepy Hollow but is nevertheless the central figure in its "legend," Crayon cannot fit into English society and its traditions, becoming instead the focus of fictional sketches that illustrate that failure.
Carolyn L. Karcher (essay date fall 1985)
SOURCE: Karcher, Carolyn L. "Patriarchal Society and Matriarchal Family in Irving's 'Rip Van Winkle' and Child's 'Hilda Silfverling.'" Legacy 2, no. 2 (fall 1985): 31-41.
[In the following essay, Karcher considers representations of patriarchal and matriarchal societies in "Rip Van Winkle" and Lydia Maria Child's "Hilda Silfverling."]
Since its emergence a little over a decade ago, feminist criticism has taken four main forms: the critique of patriarchal ideology and of the pernicious sexual stereotypes it has disseminated throughout our western literary classics; the excavation of a distinctively female literary tradition; the analysis of women writers' "revisionary struggle" against the dominant male literary tradition; and the explanation of women writers' marginal status—or downright nonrepresentation—in literary canons and theories formulated by male critics. Recently feminist theorists have begun to recognize that these four lines of inquiry are closely intertwined; for historically relegated to a separate sphere, women have found the paradigms of their male precursors ill adapted to their own experiences and preoccupations, and in attempting to translate these paradigms into feminine terms, or to invent new paradigms, women writers have in turn produced works that do not "fit" male definitions of literary significance, excellence, universality, or fidelity to cultural type.1
The next step for feminist criticism, I submit, is to explore the dialectical relationship between the dominant male literary tradition and its female variant. As Myra Jehlen has suggested, a "method of radical comparativism" would provide feminist critics with a "no-man's-land" from which to survey the contiguous literary worlds men and women writers have created.2 To elaborate on her metaphor, the process of mapping the "long border" between these rival worlds, paying special heed to points where "confrontations" erupt over disputed territory, would define the terrain peculiar to each.
Not only would systematic comparisons of analogous male and female texts clarify the differences in world view that impelled women writers to reject male models; such comparisons would also illuminate the myths, archetypes, narrative techniques, and conventions women writers evolved as they went about creating a self-consciously female countertradition. Ultimately, by enabling us to evaluate women's fiction on its own terms, a comparative methodology would force a revaluation of the aesthetic criteria that have privileged men's fiction at the expense of women's.
Because the formation of an American literary canon that excludes women writers offers a logical starting point for comparing male and female traditions, I would like to focus here on a pair of writers who played a major role in shaping American literature in its early stages: Washington Irving and Lydia Maria Child. Irving's role is of course well known. As the author of "Rip Van Winkle," he has been credited with "presid[ing] over the birth of the American imagination" and fathering its first "homegrown" archetype: that of the lone male headed for the wilderness in flight from a repressive female civilization.3 Indeed Irving's significance lies primarily in the lineage we can trace from Rip to avatars like Natty Bumppo, Thoreau, Ishmael and Ahab, Huck Finn, Nick Adams, and Ike McCaslin—or for that matter in the links we can establish between Irving himself and such literary heirs as Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, and James.
Although now almost totally forgotten, Lydia Maria Child once occupied a similar position at the head of a female tradition embodying an alternative system of values, foremost among which was a commitment to making literature an instrument of social reform.
She, too, boasts a lineage—one that includes her contemporaries Catharine Maria Sedgwick and Margaret Fuller, her admirers Caroline Healey Dall and the younger Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, and her heirs Harriet Beecher Stowe and Louisa May Alcott. Both the novel with which Child burst upon the literary scene only five years after the publication of "Rip Van Winkle" —Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times (1824)—and the short stories she contributed to gift books and periodicals over the next three decades, initiated important themes that recur in women's writings from the early nineteenth century to the present: the rebellion against patriarchal authority; the protest against male exploitation of female sexuality; the corollary often attached to that protest—a covert defense of women's right to sexual experience; the emphasis on women's relationships with each other; and the idealization of family and community with which women writers have characteristically met their male counterparts' glorification of rugged individualism and alienation.4
Best exemplifying these themes is Child's long buried female "Rip Van Winkle" story, "Hilda Silfverling." The two texts cry out for comparative analysis. Merely to juxtapose their titles is to notice a common Germanic inspiration, offset by a focus on protagonists of opposite sex. The pattern of commonality and divergence extends to the collections in which each story appeared—"Rip Van Winkle" in [The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. ] (1819), "Hilda Silfverling" in Fact and Fiction (1846). On the one hand the range of materials included in the two collections indicates that for Irving and Child alike, creating a national literature involved experimenting with a variety of genres and drawing on European as well as American sources. On the other hand the titlesThe Sketch Book and Fact and Fiction reflect very different concepts of literature—Irving's emphasizing the picturesque, in keeping with the persona he had assumed as the sauntering painter Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., Child's the interplay of art with life, as befits a woman who had been devoting her literary talents to the antislavery cause since 1833.5
A close examination of the stories themselves confirms that they offer male and female versions of the same basic plot. Both feature protagonists who leave home, undergo a rite of passage that culminates in their drinking a magic potion, fall into a prolonged sleep, awaken in a future world where they are gawked at as bogeys, and ultimately reintegrate themselves into society. In addition to these structural parallels, both "Rip Van Winkle" and "Hilda Silfverling" rework and invert such fairytale parables of sexual dormancy and awakening as the "Sleeping Beauty" story. Both play out fantasy resolutions of the problems adulthood poses. Both raise fundamental questions about individual and social identity. Both also incorporate elements of science fiction and belong to the genre of time-travel narratives.6 Both use the time-travel device as a means of commenting ironically on the revolutionary upheavals that had marked the birth of a new social order, and on the persistence of old practices despite those upheavals. Yet the ideological premises of the two stories and the uses to which they put the myths, archetypes, and generic conventions they borrow could hardly be more antipodal.
As many critics have pointed out, "Rip Van Winkle" articulates a quintessentially male fantasy of escape from domestic responsibility: "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."7 Personifying everything Rip wishes to flee—the burden of "family duty," the work ethic, the discontents of "civilization," the suppression of pleasure for the sake of profit—is Rip's termagant wife, whom Judith Fetterley has characterized as a "mouthpiece for . . . the imperatives of Benjamin Franklin."8
Because the story conflates the "petticoat government" of Dame Van Winkle and the capitalist ethos of Franklin's Autobiography, it evokes complex responses toward Rip's rebellion. True, Rip remains a perpetual child who refuses to assume his adult obligations. At the same time, although Rip neglects his "patrimonial estate," he "would never refuse to assist a neighbor even in the roughest toil, and was a foremost man at all country frolics for husking Indian corn or building stone fences."9 It is not work per se to which he objects, but "constant and regulated" work, "work as a way to profit," and "work as a moral imperative," to quote Fetterley again.10 In short, Rip harks back to a precapitalist era in which labor is regulated by the seasons rather than the clock and marked by cooperation and conviviality rather than competition, asceticism, and the single-minded pursuit of individual gain.11 Hence the profound appeal he has always exerted in a civilization where alienating work has become the norm and the individual has lost most ties to the community.
For Rip, however, the locus of the oppression that the capitalist ethos generates is the family, embodied in his castrating wife. Conveniently, woman has become the scapegoat responsible for the ills of a social order that in fact has divested women of the little status they previously enjoyed, and "petticoat government" has become the symbol of tyranny in a society that concentrates power in male hands.12
From Dame Van Winkle's matriarchal realm, Rip seeks refuge in the institutions of a precapitalist patriarchy and in the wilderness domain of a prior tribal society. Rip spends his days either "frequenting a kind of perpetual club of the sages, philosophers, and other idle personages of the village," which holds its sessions beneath a portrait of George III (p. 41), or hunting and fishing in the woods with his dog Wolf, a projection of his hounded masculinity. Ironically, neither refuge offers a real alternative to the "despotism" under which Rip has "long groaned" at home (p. 53). The first, indeed, represents the spirit of Benjamin Franklin in another guise: a "junto" whose opinions are "completely controlled" by that "patriarch of the village," the "landlord" of its only inn and principal establishment.13 As for the second, Rip finds it to be a world haunted by supernatural despots who rob him of his manhood as effectively as his wife does.
On penetrating its feminine terrain, he encounters a group of mysterious beings engaged in "the most melancholy party of pleasure he had ever witnessed" (p. 45). They conscript him to "wait upon the company," and Rip "obey[s] with fear and trembling," while they quaff the liquor he serves them "in profound silence." As Philip Young has shown, these ghostly tyrants, believed by the villagers to be the spirits of "Hendrick Hudson" and his crew, are reincarnations of a far older patriarchy—the Norse gods and slain heroes peopling "Odin's hall of the dead."14 The game of ninepins they are playing is a fertility rite dedicated to Thor, the Norse god of thunder, and unbeknownst to him, Rip is being "initiated into an ancient mystery and shown the sacred secrets of all life."15
Behind Thor, however, lurks the figure of an Indian matriarchal deity whose legend Irving has appended to "Rip Van Winkle." 16 "An old squaw spirit," her fits of passion "if displeased" once again recall those of Dame Van Winkle: "she would brew up clouds black as ink, sitting in the midst of them like a bottle-bellied spider in the midst of its web; and when these clouds broke, woe betide the valleys!" (p. 54). Thus it is fitting that Rip's "initiation" takes the form of a symbolic castration—he falls asleep for twenty years after surreptitiously getting drunk on the gods' potent mead, and awakens to find his gun rusted and fallen to pieces and his limbs stiff with rheumatism. Rip's experience, of course, parodies the rites of passage celebrated by traditional societies throughout the world, and commemorated in such folk tales as "The Sleeping Beauty," where the adolescent initiate goes through a prolonged sleep, symbolizing sexual quiescence, and a ritual awakening marking his or her entrance into the generative phase of life (as suggested by the kiss that awakens Sleeping Beauty).17
Although Rip has witnessed the rites of Thor, the "new phase of life" into which he has been "reborn" is not generativity, but "male-menopause," in Philip Young's apt phrase.18 Once again, the Indian mythology Irving relegates to a postscript furnishes a more instructive gloss on Rip's fate than the European folklore that historically displaced it when white conquerors and explorers like "Hendrick Hudson" invaded the New World. Rather than joining the valiant warriors in Odin's Valhalla, Rip has ended up much like the hunter victimized by the shape-shifting "Manitou" to whom Irving gives the last word in "Rip Van Winkle." An Indian counterpart of the Norse trickster god Loki, that Manitou "took a mischievous pleasure in wreaking all kinds of evils and vexations upon the red men" (p. 54).19 Accordingly, the hunter who had penetrated to the Manitou's abode, known with obvious overtones of Eden as "Garden Rock," had lost his life in the act of trying to sneak off with the sacred liquor contained in "gourds placed in the crotches of trees": "in the hurry of his retreat he let [the gourd] fall among the rocks, when a great stream gushed forth, which washed him away and swept him down the precipices, where he was dashed to pieces" (p. 55).
The death Rip suffers is metaphorical: all but forgotten by his family and community, he has become as much a ghost from the past as the mythical beings into whose domain he has intruded.20 No wonder that when he re-enters the village he left twenty years before, children run hooting at his heels, the inhabitants take him to be a Tory spy or refugee, and Rip "doubt[s] his own identity, and whether he [is] himself or another man" (p. 50).
Not only has Rip lost his identity, as well as the very manhood he had sought to preserve by escaping his castrating wife, he has also lost the precapitalist world to which he had been clinging before his departure. The post-Revolutionary world to which he has returned is entirely dominated by the imperatives of Benjamin Franklin. The "phlegm and drowsy tranquillity" Rip remembers from the past have given way to "a busy, bustling, disputatious tone." The calm deliberations of the "junto" led by the village patriarch have yielded to vehement harangues about "rights of citizens," delivered by sour demagogues. The portrait of George III that used to preside over the junto's meetings has been converted into a portrait of George Washington—the minimal retouching it has received for the purpose betraying both the triumph of Franklin's penny-pinching philosophy and the underlying resemblance of the two rulers.21 "Petticoat government" has even taken over the village inn: "A large, rickety, wooden building stood in its place, with great gaping windows, some of them broken and mended with old hats and petticoats, and over the door was painted, 'the Union Hotel, by Jonathan Doolittle'" (p. 48).
Just as it seems that Rip has come home to a worse tyranny than he fled, however, Irving supplies a fantasy dénouement: Rip's daughter Judith, hitherto unmentioned in the story, suddenly materializes as a young woman grown to motherhood and ready to assume the care of this wayward, overgrown infant. Dame Van Winkle, it turns out to Rip's infinite relief, has recently died of an apoplectic fit, and Judith is in a position to offer her father a "snug, well furnished" home where he need have "nothing to do." Freed from the "yoke of matrimony" and the burden of "family duty," Rip finds the refuge he has been looking for after all. In defiance of history, he succeeds in resurrecting the junto of yore, where he now takes the place of its former patriarch "on the bench at the inn door." Ultimately, the political revolution that seemed to have swept away Rip's old world proves almost irrelevant. As Irving remarks slyly, "the changes of states and empires made but little impression on him" (pp. 52-53). For Rip the political is merely personal, and the only revolution that matters is his private revolution against the family, the institution he has all along perceived as a matriarchal tyranny and identified as the source of his woes.
"What is a woman to do with 'Rip Van Winkle' ?" asks Judith Fetterley of this virulently antifeminist fable, which has proved so abidingly popular and exerted such a profound influence on American literature.22 That very question evidently elicited Child's "Hilda Silfverling," subtitled "A Fantasy" and set in Scandinavia. Rewriting "Rip Van Winkle" as if from the point of view of the daughter Rip abandoned only to accept her mothering at the end of his life, Child presents a diametrically opposite diagnosis of the social ills Irving blames on "petticoat government." At the same time, she reverses the process by which Irving had displaced matriarchal with patriarchal myth in his use of Norse and Indian folklore: "Hilda Silfverling" supplants the patriarchal Thor, conjured up in "Rip Van Winkle," with his archenemy Loki, whose role as a trickster is inherently antipatriarchal. The result is a story that salvages for women readers the mythic reverberations, fantasy elements, pastoral vision, and urbane social satire constituting the charm of its prototype, once purged of misogyny.
Unlike Irving, Child locates the source of the oppression her heroine endures, not in the family, which serves rather as her refuge, but in patriarchal society. Indeed Hilda's troubles begin with the loss of her family. The death of her mother deprives Hilda of "maternal tenderness" at age five, and the subsequent death of her clergyman father in Hilda's thirteenth year, "just as she was receiving rapidly from his affectionate teachings as much culture as his own education and means afforded" (p. 205), removes her last bulwark against the sexual and economic exploitation to which patriarchy subjects women. Orphaned at the conventional age of puberty, Hilda confronts the limited options available to most women before the twentieth century: dependence on relatives, "who could not well conceal that the destitute orphan was a burden," or migration to the city "to earn her living by her needle, and some light services about the house" (p. 205)—low-paying occupations that exposed women to sexual advances and often forced them into prostitution.23
Child shows great tact and psychological acumen in handling Hilda's inevitable seduction. "Naturally prone to listen to the first words of warm affection she had heard since her father's death," Child explains, Hilda succumbs less to sexual temptation than to her need for love and fathering. As for the seducer, a Danish sailor powerfully attracted to Hilda, "though selfish, he . . . did not mean to be treacherous to the friendless young creature who trusted him," but fully intended to marry Hilda on his return from the voyage in which he perished at sea. In short, Child's version of "the old story, which will continue to be told as long as there are human passions and human laws" (p. 206), exonerates both lovers and treats sexual laxity with a sympathy remarkable for the period.24
Throughout Hilda's ensuing ordeal, Child emphasizes the crucial role that a mother plays in shielding a young woman from a heartless patriarchal society.
It is because Hilda does not have "a mother's bosom on which to lean her aching head, and confess all her faults" that she suffers so much "anxiety and shame" as a result of her unwanted pregnancy (p. 206), and it is the surrogate mother she eventually turns to, a Norwegian peasant working in Stockholm as a laundress, who safeguards the future of Hilda's baby by adopting it and giving it a home in rural Norway.25
Conversely, Child shows, every institution of patriarchy acts against Hilda. The society that has failed to protect her as an orphaned adolescent, and that offers her no means of raising her illegitimate child, self-righteously accuses her of infanticide when a baby is found "strangled with a sash very like one Hilda had been accustomed to wear" (the "circumstantial evidence" pointing to Hilda's guilt, of course, symbolizes the guilt she feels for having relinquished her baby [p. 207]). Despite the absence of conclusive proof, a male tribunal sentences Hilda to death. A male scientist who has "discovered a process of artificial cold, by which he could suspend animation in living creatures, and restore it at any prescribed time," petitions to subject Hilda to this experiment, in lieu of beheading. A male metaphysician seconds the proposal, for the sake of the knowledge to be gained by "put[ting] a human being asleep thus, and watch[ing] the reunion of soul and body, after the lapse of a hundred years." Male government officials approve the request, "for no one suggested a doubt of [the] divine right to freeze human hearts, instead of chopping off human heads, or choking human lungs" (p. 208). A male chaplain lends his sanction to the proceeding and finds himself too "embarrassed" by uncertainty over the fate of her soul in the interval to tender Hilda the customary religious solace. Male "public functionaries" install her in the icy provisional tomb to which patriarchal justice has condemned her, and in which she is surrounded by frozen embodiments of masculine ferocity—a bear, a snake, a crocodile, and a wolf (unlike Rip Van Winkle's dog, this wolf is no mere henpecked hound) (pp. 209-11).
As Child makes clear, the "perpetual club of the sages [and] philosophers" (Irving, p. 41) that Rip regards as a haven persecutes Hilda with a fury compared to which Dame Van Winkle's harassment of him is trivial. Hilda's final journey "in a closed carriage from the prison to the laboratory" where she is to be "frozen for a century" (pp. 208-09) sums up the essence of patriarchal society and what it represents for women.
The laboratory itself is Child's central symbol of the perversions that result from a system of sexual and economic dominance. "Built entirely of stone, . . . rendered intensely cold by an artificial process," illuminated only by the "dim and spectral" light "admitted from above through a small circle of blue glass," and devoted to arresting the life functions of natural creatures, the laboratory parodies and inverts the creative powers that patriarchy punishes in women (p. 209). It also parodies Christianity, which it enlists in support of the rapacity Child finds at the basis of capitalism, the form of patriarchy this life-denying establishment upholds. Describing the "huge bear" lying on one of the laboratory's stone shelves, "with paws crossed on his breast, as devoutly as some pious knight of the fourteenth century," Child comments: "There was in fact on inconsiderable resemblance in the proceedings by which both these characters gained their worldly possessions; they were equally based on the maxim that 'might makes right'" (p. 209).
So intolerable is the atmosphere of the laboratory that even the men who have "attended the prisoner, to make sure that justice was not defrauded of its due," cannot remain in it for more than a few minutes. The public functionaries hastily retire, "complaining of the unearthly cold," and the chemist in charge of the experiment presses Hilda to drink her potion quickly, "for I am getting chilly myself" (p. 210). His parting words and the action that belies them reverberate with ironies that have become all too familiar to us in the wake of the gas chambers, the bomb, and the proliferation of lethal industries: "You will fall asleep as easily as a babe in his cradle," he promises, as he "cover[s] his face with a mask, let[s] some gasses escape from an apparatus in the centre of the room," and rushes out of the laboratory, "locking the door after him" (pp. 210-11).
Like Irving, Child draws attention to the political revolutions that occur during her heroine's hundred-year sleep: "America took place among the nations; Bonaparte played out his great game, with kingdoms for pawns" (p. 211). Unlike Irving, however, she does not exploit the possibilities of time-travel by having her heroine awaken in a radically changed world. True, when Hilda goes out into the street, after being ceremoniously "resuscitated" in the presence of "a select scientific few" so that her physical symptoms can be carefully studied, she, like Rip, attracts the stares of "boys and lads" and finds herself treated by the townspeople "as if she had been a witch or a ghost" (pp. 212-13). Still, neither she nor the world looks any different. Whereas Rip aged while he slept, Hilda remains "in the bloom of sixteen" (p. 213). Whereas Rip notices the disappearances of old landmarks and the mushrooming of unfamiliar structures in their place, Hilda returns to a shop she had frequented a century ago and finds it kept by the grand-daughter of the former owner. It is possible that Child was simply handicapped by her use of a foreign setting, which she could not render in the same vivid detail as Irving could his native New York. Yet by minimizing the impact of the events she mentions in passing—the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars—Child may also be suggesting, as Irving says of Rip, that "the changes of states and empires made but little impression" (p. 52) on Hilda. Many feminist scholars have observed that women's lives reveal more continuities than changes from one historical period to the next and that periodization based on male norms seriously distorts women's history.26 Certainly Hilda would have faced the same likelihood of being seduced and abandoned in 1840 as in 1740, given her situation as a friendless orphan adrift in the city.
Like Irving, Child supplies her story with a fantasy denouement that harks back to a pastoral era. Hilda sets out for "some secluded village in Norway," untouched by the ravages of urbanization, where she can begin life anew in a protective environment. By itself, however, the return to a village community is not enough. Like Rip, Hilda must still solve the problem that drove her away from the village in the first place. In Rip's case, as we have seen, the solution lay in freeing himself from the "yoke of matrimony" and reconstituting the "perpetual men's club" that afforded him a refuge from the family.27 In Hilda's, the solution is the reverse—to reconstitute the family that comprises her sole refuge from the predatory world of men. Hilda achieves her end in several different ways: by integrating herself into the extended family of the village, "where old men and young maidens took her by the hand, and spoke as if they thought Heaven had sent them a daughter and a sister" (p. 215); by finding surrogate parents in a peasant couple who have just lost a daughter; and ultimately, of course by acquiring a husband.
Although this may seem a disappointingly conservative dénouement, Child gives it an extraordinarily subversive twist; for the man Hilda marries, the spit and image of the lover who abandoned her, turns out to be her own great-grandson. Husband and child rolled into one, he embodies the family itself, created out of the very matrix of female identity—the womb—that had proved the channel of male domination in Hilda's past life.
As if entertaining an incest fantasy weren't subversive enough, Child models Hilda's new lover, Alerik Thorild, after the Norse trickster god Loki, the chief adversary of the patriarchal Thor, for whom he is named. In contrast to Irving, moreover, who makes Thor's ghostly avatar Hendrick Hudson serve as the agent of Rip's liberation from female sexuality and family responsibility, Child makes Loki's avatar Alerik serve as the agent of Hilda's liberation from patriarchal restrictions against female sexuality.
According to folklorists, the trickster figure universally personifies "the spirit of disorder, the enemy of boundaries" and hierarchies, including those of gender. Hence he (or she) tends to be androgynous—at once the "double and alter ego," of the phallus and capable of metamorphosing into "a bride and mother." Representing the irrepressible "life of the body," the trickster's function is "to add disorder to order and so make a whole, to render possible, within the fixed bounds of what is permitted, an experience of what is not permitted."28
Alerik Thorild corresponds in every respect to this description. Appropriately, for a figure who is the hero of so many narrative cycles, he is first introduced through the tales told about him. "Ah, he was such a Berserker of a boy!" Hilda's foster-mother Brenda begins her recital of his pranks. The Berserker, Child informs us in a note, is "a warrior famous in the Northern Sagas for his stormy and untamable character" (p. 218). Her conflation of the Berserker with the trickster reflects Child's awareness that the roles of these two mythological figures are analogous. Indeed scholars have characterized the Berserker, in terms almost identical to those applied to the trickster, as "a member of a special class free from the laws which govern ordinary members of society," and as a "necessary element in society," representing "the wild and fantastic in contrast with law and order."29 Thus Brenda proceeds to portray Alerik as a "rogue" perennially inventing "mischief," yet loved by everyone in the village, and as a hoaxer who can make people doubt the evidence of their senses: "If he wanted to make thee think thy hair was as black as Noeck's mane, he would make thee think so," she assures the flaxen-haired Hilda (p. 219). "There will be no telling which end of the world is uppermost, while he is here," agrees Hilda's foster-father, Eystein Hansen, predicting "plenty of tricks" now that Alerik has returned (p. 221).
The chief victim of Alerik's tricks, indeed, is "Father Hansen," as Child consistently calls him, pointedly underscoring his patriarchal status (emphasis added). Alerik drowns out Father Hansen's singing in church while the latter, a clergyman's assistant, is trying to lead the hymn in accordance with "immemorial custom" (p. 221); paints the old man's house brown, so that he cannot recognize it in the dark; and plies Father Hansen with drink at the Wolf's Head tavern, with the aim of tricking the old man into shooting and apparently killing him.
The latter episode deserves a closer look because it functions on so many levels. First, it parallels Rip's encounter with the gods. Father Hansen, too, emerges from the encounter completely disoriented and unable to find his way home after drinking "unknown quantities of ale" (p. 228). He, too, is a hunter, and the totemic "wolf's head" Alerik has carved on Father Hansen's cane stands him in lieu of Rip's dog Wolf.
Second, the episode enhances Alerik's mythic stature and reinforces his identification with Loki. Recalling Loki's Satanic associations, Alerik claims to have "made a league with the devil" in order to become "shot-proof" (p. 224).30 When he prevails on Hansen to test this boast by shooting him, he undergoes a mock death and resurrection, first falling to the floor "with a deadly groan" and then reappearing miraculously with the words, "You see the devil did keep his bargain with me" (p. 228). The Wolf's Head tavern itself, and Alerik's evident affinity with the animal it is named for—the wolf's head he carves for Father Hansen looks so alive that Brenda fears it will bite her—evoke Loki's aspect as the father of the wolf Fenrir.31
Third, Father Hansen's supposed shooting of Alerik invites comparison with Hilda's alleged infanticide. A comic scene, it throws into relief the mockery of justice that led to her conviction and caricatures the pious consolations the court had offered Hilda, whose consignment to a hundred-year sleep had been "lauded as an act of clemency" for which she was to be grateful (p. 208). "You will probably forfeit your life," Alerik's companions tell Father Hansen, opining that the government, would consider his having been goaded into murder "a poor excuse." "But don't be too much cast down," they exhort him. "It will be a great comfort to you and your good Brenda that you did not intend to commit murder" (pp. 226-27).
Finally, the discomfiture Alerik wreaks on Father Hansen strongly suggests that his symbolic function is to take revenge against patriarchy for the suffering inflicted on Hilda. Indeed he is shaking the very foundations of patriarchy and literally turning the world upside down, as Father Hansen had feared.
This brings us to Alerik's relationship with Hilda. As the product—however far removed—of Hilda's womb, he obviously incarnates the male part of her. He also embodies and defends her forbidden sexual impulses. Both functions are in keeping with the trickster's role as an androgynous personification of "the life of the body."
That is why, when Hilda reveals to him that he is her great-grandson, he merely "burst[s] into immoderate peals of laughter" and retorts: "Likely as not thou art my great-grandmother, dear Hilda; and just as likely I was thy grandfather, in the first place" (p. 233). Citing the Pythagorean theory of metempsychosis and the ancient Egyptian belief that "the soul was obliged to live three thousand years, in a succession of different animals, before it could attain to the regions of the blest," he adds: "If these things are so, how the deuce is a man ever to tell whether he marries his grandmother or not?" (pp. 233, 235). Hilda is fortunate, he teases, to have been reincarnated in the form of a maiden, "for if thou hadst come as a wolf, I might have shot thee; and I shouldn't like to shoot my—great-grandmother. Or if thou hadst come as a red herring, Father Hansen might have eaten thee in his soup" (p. 235). When Hilda counters indignantly that she remembers the bear who slept across from her in the laboratory as well as she does her expedition with Alerik the previous day, he jokes: "He must have been a great bear to have staid there. . . . If I had been in his skin, may I be shot if all the drugs and gasses in the world would have kept me there, with my paws folded on my breast" (p. 236).
Full of sexual innuendoes, Alerik's jests invite multiple interpretations. Initially, they appear to target a world in which men are forever preying on women—an interpretation warranted by Hilda's fate. When we recall that Alerik is an extension of Hilda, however, his bawdy assertion of sexual desire takes on a radically different meaning. Through a male persona, it daringly reclaims the right to sexual satisfaction for women as well as for men—and for the female author and reader as well as for their fictional projections. On yet another level, Alerik's playful arguments against incest taboos allude to a body of myths and fairy tales that redefine the relationships between men and women, gods and humans, humans and nature: "Little Red Riding-Hood," a fable about "budding sexuality," in which the hunter shoots the wolf masquerading as Little Red Riding-Hood's grandmother;32 "The Three Wishes," in which a fisherman is rewarded for not eating the fish he has caught, the fish being a prince or princess under enchantment; the myth in which Loki disguises himself as a salmon to escape the wrath of the gods, but gets caught in his own net;33 the legend about the Berserker who fights "in the form of a great bear . . . while his human form [lies] at home and seem[s] asleep";34 a variety of stories about children exchanged in the cradle and carried off by fairies; and the myths of Niobe and Daphne (pp. 235-37).
By blurring the line between fantasy and reality, myth and religion, Alerik subverts the most fundamental tenets of patriarchy. He refuses to take seriously Hilda's insistence that hers is "no fairy story," and when Hilda protests that the myths to which he turns for analogies to her experience "are like the stories about Odin and Frigga"—"not true, like the Christian religion"—Alerik retorts: "But tell me, best Hilda . . . what the Christian religion has to do with penning up young maidens with bears and crocodiles?" He then proceeds to hint that contrary to its pretensions, Christianity does pen up young maidens with bears and crocodiles, "in its marriage ceremonies . . . only omitting the important part of freezing the maiden's heart" (p. 237). Alerik's ultimate subversion consists in invoking a literal reading of the Bible to authorize his marrying his great-grandmother: "I have read in my mother's big Bible, that a man must not marry his grandmother [emphasis added]; but I do not remember that it said a single word against his marrying his great-grandmother" (p. 237). In the guise of the trickster, Child has succeeded in delivering patriarchal religion into the custody of the women it would imprison.
Contrary to patriarchal myth, no dire consequences follow from the incestuous marriage in which "Hilda Silfverling" culminates. Instead the lovers' sexual fulfillment results in "harmony with the peaceful beauty of Nature" (p. 240). The marriage also divests Father Hansen once and for all of his patriarchal authority: "The worthy man had in fact taken the hint, though somewhat reluctantly, and had good-naturedly ceased to disturb modern ears with his clamorous vociferation of the hymns" (p. 240). It is the subversive trickster who pronounces the last words of the story: "when [Hilda] told her husband anything he did not choose to believe, [her foster parents] could never rightly make out what he meant by looking at her so slily, and saying, 'Pooh! Pooh! tell that to my—great-grandmother'" (p. 240).
Delightful as it is on the level of fantasy, the story's ending has darker overtones that the zestful comedy cannot quite mask. When Hilda murmurs, "Oh, it was well worth a hundred years with bears and crocodiles, to fall asleep thus on thy heart," as Alerik kisses her "drowsy eyes" (p. 240), the reader cannot help seeing a parallel, as well as a contrast, with the scene in which she is put to sleep in the scientist's laboratory. The implication is that while marriage may be a refuge from the harshest aspects of patriarchy, it hardly allows a woman to grow. Indeed Hilda seems to be regressing to infancy. Moreover, though on the symbolic level Alerik is an extension of Hilda, on the level of "real life" he is the grandson of "the richest man in the village" (p. 218).35 As such, he stands in an unequal relationship to Hilda, whom he already threatens to domineer, albeit good-humoredly.
In short, the story does not allow us to luxuriate in the "happy ending" it offers. Rather, it reminds us of how limited women's options really are under patriarchy and of how questionable a refuge the family provides, even in its most idyllic form. After all, whatever male writers like Irving may have believed, the nineteenth-century family was a solidly patriarchal institution. Far from betokening its matriarchal character, the existence of shrews like Dame Van Winkle merely testifies to the oppressiveness of a system that aroused impotent rage and spite in those women who refused to submit to it. It also testifies to the fearful price that both sexes pay for such a system.
Ultimately, the fantasy resolution that gives the story so much charm conceals within it a bleak statement about the issues Hilda's life raises. Fantasy, it suggests, provides the only realm in which the plight of woman in patriarchal society can reach a happy resolution. Nor is that realm entirely free of constraints. As a fantasy of incest violating a patriarchal taboo, subverting a patriarchal myth, and rewriting a patriarchal text, "Hilda Silfverling" still takes its cue from the very ideology it seeks to overthrow.36 Not until the twentieth century would social conditions make it possible to plot a woman's life along independent lines.
This said, the female literary tradition developed by writers like Child was vital to creating those conditions, and its wholesale burial has immeasurably impoverished us. Hence a major goal of feminist criticism has been to recover that tradition, both by unearthing lost women writers and by reexamining the aesthetic and ideological criteria which expunged them from our literary history.
Through a comparison of two texts representing the dominant patriarchal tradition and its subversive feminine variant, I have sought to offer a model for undertaking such a reexamination. What emerges from the comparison, I hope, is that the factor we call "literary merit" does not satisfactorily explain why "Rip Van Winkle" has been accorded a place in the canon, while "Hilda Silfverling" has been consigned to oblivion.37 Both texts, under a deceptively simple surface, display a complex web of meanings and a sophisticated manipulation of fictional strategies, fulfilling our current criteria of excellence. Only Irving's text, however, fits our conception of "American" literature. Ironically, though based on a German folktale and set in a Dutch colonial community that can hardly be considered representative, its publication at a time when Americans were clamorously calling for a national literature that would exploit local color and legend met an immediate cultural need; ever since, it has struck readers as archetypally American. No matter how we might characterize the classic "male protagonist of our fiction"—whether as American Adam, Boone-like hunter, or "enemy of society on the run toward 'freedom'"—we will be sure to trace his origin to Irving's "Rip Van Winkle. "38
In contrast, "Hilda Silfverling" stubbornly refuses to fit any American archetype familiar to us as readers deriving our expectations from the traditional canon. The incongruence does not lie in its Scandinavian setting, for the Italian settings of Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter" and of Melville's "The Bell-Tower" do not prevent us from assimilating them to some version of "the" American myth. It lies rather in the story's female point of view and deliberate revision of patriarchal convention.
Yet the very features that make Child's text seem anomalous in relation to norms established by male writers and critics identify it as belonging to a female countertradition with a vastly different, though equally elaborate, set of norms. The rejection of patriarchal authority, the quest for a surrogate mother, the vindication of female sexuality, the reconstitution of the matriarchal family, the vision of community, and even the recourse to science fiction and utopian fantasy find echoes in works as diverse as Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Minister's Wooing, Louisa May Alcott's Work, Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland, Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time, and Alice Walker's The Color Purple, to name only the best known. This female canon is every bit as impressive as the one we have learned to value. If we have been unable to do justice to a body of work so rich, it is only because we have yet to decipher its encoded meanings.39
By reconstructing a context in which to put stories like "Hilda Silfverling," by familiarizing us with their myths, archetypes, and conventions, and by teaching us to read their symbolic language, feminist criticism extends to women's writing the shock of recognition that enhances our appreciation of men's. It also holds out a means of restoring the integrity (in the double sense of wholeness and truthfulness) of American literature; for our literature is the product not of a single tradition, but of a dialectic between a culturally dominant tradition and the variants springing from the experiences of the many groups outside the consensus—women and workingclass people of all races; Black, Native, Hispanic, Asian, Jewish, Arab, and other ethnic Americans; gays and lesbians (the list extends with our awareness). A canon that includes both parts of this dialectic and all of these voices will be infinitely richer, as well as more genuinely American.
1. For critiques of patriarchal ideology, see Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (New York: Avon, 1971); and Judith Fetterley The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1978). For reconstructions of a female literary tradition, see Ellen Moers, Literary Women (New York: Doubleday, 1977); Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1977); Nina Baym, Woman's Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820-1870 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1978); and Mary Kelley, Private Woman, Public Stage: Literary Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1984). For analyses of women writers' "revisionary struggle," see Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1979). For explanations of women writers' exclusion from the canon, see Annette Kolodny, "Dancing Through the Minefield: Some Observations on a Theory, Practice, and Politics of a Feminist Literary Criticism," Feminist Studies 6 (Spring 1980), 1-25, and "A Map for Rereading: Or, Gender and the Interpretation of Literary Texts," New Literary History 11 (1980), 451-67; Nina Baym, "Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors," American Quarterly 33 (1981), 123-39; and Paul Lauter, "Race and Gender in the Shaping of the American Literary Canon: A Case Study from the Twenties," Feminist Studies 9 (1983), 435-63. For an excellent overview of the first decade of feminist criticism, see Elaine Showalter, ed., The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, and Theory (New York: Pantheon, 1985), especially her essay "Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness," pp. 243-70 (several of the essays cited above are reprinted in this collection).
2. Myra Jehlen, "Archimedes and the Paradox of Feminist Criticism," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 6 (1981), 575-601. The quotations are from p. 585. For an example of practical criticism using this comparative method, see Carolyn L. Karcher, "Male Vision and Female Revision in James's The Wings of the Dove and Wharton's The House of Mirth," Women's Studies 10 (1983), 227-43. For further evidence that feminist critics are already moving in this direction, see the courses described in Paul Lauter, ed., Reconstructing American Literature: Courses, Syllabi, Issues (Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1983), especially Rita K. Gollin's "Major Authors: Twentieth-Century American Fiction—Men and Women Writers," pp. 150-52, and Carolyn L. Karcher's "Male and Female Traditions in American Fiction," pp. 154-56.
3. Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel (New York: Criterion Books, 1960), pp. xx-xxi.
4. In 1833, an article in the prestigious North American Review ranked Child highest among the women writers of the day (37:139). For a fine analysis of Child's career, see Patricia G. Holland, "Lydia Maria Child as a Nineteenth-Century Professional Author," Studies in the American Renaissance (1981), 157-67. On Child's contributions to the development of the American historical novel, see the forthcoming Rutgers University Press reprint of Hobomok, ed. Carolyn L. Karcher. On Child's contributions to the development of the short story, see the headnote to Child's "The Quadroons" in Susan Koppelman, ed., The Other Woman: Stories of Two Women and a Man (Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1984). I am grateful to Koppelman for sharing with me her research on the women writers who helped pioneer the short story in the 1820s. Some of these themes in women's writings are discussed by Jane P. Tompkins, "Sentimental Power: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Politics of Literary History," reprinted in Showalter, ed., The New Feminist Criticism, pp. 81-104; see especially pp. 96-100. See also Sarah Elbert's introduction to her edition of Louisa May Alcott's Work: A Story of Experience (New York: Schocken, 1977).
5. "Hilda Silfverling" was first published in The Columbian Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine 4 (October 1845), 169-78, and reissued the following year in Fact and Fiction (New York: C. S. Francis, 1846). It is reprinted in Legacy for the first time since the nineteenth century, following this article. Child's long career as an abolitionist began when she published her Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (Boston: Allen and Ticknor, 1833), the first American book to advocate immediate emancipation and an end to all forms of racial discrimination. From 1841-43, she edited the National Anti-Slavery Standard.
6. On nineteenth-century time-travel literature and "Rip Van Winkle" as "the archetypal time-travel story," see H. Bruce Franklin, Future Perfect: American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth Century, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978), pp. 312-13, 364-65. On the related genre of utopian fiction, see Barbara C. Quissell, "The New World That Eve Made: Feminist Utopias Written by Nineteenth-Century Women"; and Joel Nydahl "Early Fictional Futures: Utopia, 1798-1864," both in Kenneth M. Roemer, ed. America as Utopia (New York: Burt Franklin, 1981), pp. 148-74, 254-91. I am indebted to H. Bruce Franklin for drawing my attention to this collection of essays.
7. Fiedler, pp. xx-xxi.
8. Fetterley, p. 3.
9. Washington Irving, "Rip Van Winkle," in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819; rpt. New York: New American Library), p. 40. All subsequent page references to this easily accessible edition will be given parenthetically in the text.
10. Fetterley, pp. 2, 4.
11. For illuminating discussions of resistance to the capitalist ethos among peasants and workers, especially during the transition to the capitalist mode of development, see E. P. Thompson, "Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism," Past and Present 38 (1967), 56-97; and Herbert G. Gutman, Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America: Essays in American Working-Class and Social History (New York: Random House, 1977), pp. 3-78.
12. On women's loss of status during the shift from a domestic to a market economy, see Nancy F. Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: "Woman's Sphere" in New England, 1780-1835 (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1977), especially the Introduction and the chapters "Work" and "Domesticity"; also Ann Douglas' The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Avon, 1978), especially the Introduction and the chapter "Feminine Disestablishment."
13. See Franklin's account of the Junto Club he founded, in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Leonard W. Labaree, Ralph L. Ketcham, Helen C. Boatfield, and Helene H. Fineman (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1964), pp. 116-18.
14. Philip Young, "Fallen from Time: The Mythic Rip Van Winkle," Kenyon Review 22 (1960); reprinted in Visions and Revisions in Modern American Literary Criticism, ed. Bernard S. Oldsey and Arthur O. Lewis, Jr. (E. P. Dutton: New York, 1962), p. 298.
15. Young, pp. 300-01, 303. Thor's role as the god of war may also be relevant, since the American Revolution occurs while Rip is sleeping in the mountains after his "initiation."
16. Fetterley, p. 7, points out that "Rip's vision in the mountains displaces this legend, making men the gods of weather and relegating women to the position of mere interpreters of their thunder." I would simply add that like all patriarchal displacements of matriarchal myths, this one is not successful enough to prevent what might be called a "return of the repressed."
17. David J. Kann, "'Rip Van Winkle': Wheels within Wheels," American Imago 36 (1979), 187-88, discusses the parodic elements that make Rip's "initiation" appear "debased and regressive." For an interpretation of "The Sleeping Beauty" as a story about sexual awakening, in which the adolescent girl passes through a period of "utter passivity and lethargy" before attaining the "physical and emotional maturity" signalling her readiness for "sex and marriage," see Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (New York: Random House, 1977), pp. 225-36.
18. Young, p. 302.
19. The resemblance between American Indian tricksters and the Norse Loki has been noted by folklorists and mythologists. See Anna Birgitta Rooth, Loki in Scandinavian Mythology (Lund: C.W.K. Gleerups Förlag, 1961), p. 189.
20. Kann, p. 190.
21. On the first point, see Hershel Parker's note to "Rip Van Winkle" in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Vol. I., ed. Francis Murphy and Hershel Parker, p. 603, n. 9; on the second, see Fetterley, p. 9.
22. Fetterley, p. 9.
23. On low wages as a cause of prostitution, particularly among seamstresses and domestic servants, see E. M. Sigsworth and T. J. Wyke, "A Study of Victorian Prostitution and Venereal Disease," in Suffer and Be Still: Women in the Victorian Age, ed. Martha Vicinus (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 80-82; Françoise Basch, Relative Creatures: Victorian Women in Society and the Novel, trans. Anthony Rudolf (New York: Schocken, 1974), Chapter 11, especially pp. 198-200; and Sally Mitchell, The Fallen Angel: Chastity, Class and Women's Reading, 1835-1880 (Bowling Green: Bowling Green Univ. Popular Press, 1981), pp. 12, 25-26, 52-53, 158.
24. Mitchell's discussion of English fiction on this theme in Chapters 2 and 3 suggests that Child's avoidance of moralizing and failure to show "the swift downward path of any woman who had sex without marriage" (p. 53) was highly unusual. In her story "Rosenglory," however, written in the vein of realism rather than fantasy, and placed immediately after "Hilda Silfverling" in Fact and Fiction, pp. 241-60, Child does have her heroine reach the conventional unhappy end of the "fallen woman." This latter story was based on the case of one of the many such women Child befriended during her years in New York.
25. On the mother-daughter theme in women's fiction, see Susan Koppelman's introduction to her anthology Between Mothers and Daughters:Stories across a Generation (Old Westbury, N.Y.: Feminist Press, 1985), especially pp. xxx-xxxii on "Surrogate Mothers."
26. See Gerda Lerner, "Placing Women in History: A 1975 Perspective," in Liberating Women's History: Theoretical and Critical Essays, ed. Berenice A. Carroll (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1976), pp. 357-67, especially pp. 362-64; Natalie Zemon Davis, "'Women's History' in Transition: The European Case," Feminist Studies 3 (1976), 83-103, especially p. 93; and Joan Kelly-Gadol, "Did Women Have a Renaissance?" in Becoming Visible: Women in European History, ed. Renate Bridenthal and Claudia Koonz (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), pp. 137-64.
27. The second phrase is Young's, p. 307.
28. The quotations are from Karl Kerenyi, "The Trickster in Relation to Greek Mythology," appended to Paul Radin's classic book, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956), pp. 182, 185, 188. The Winnebago Wakdjunkaga trickster cycle discussed by Radin includes an episode in which the trickster, hitherto a male, assumes the form of a woman, gets pregnant, and bears three children (pp. 22-23). See also Rooth, pp. 148-49, on "Loki as a Woman."
29. See H. R. Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of the Viking Age (New York: Bell, 1981), pp. 66-68; and G. Dumézil, Mythes et dieux des Germains (Paris: Librairie Ernest Leroux, 1939), pp. 81-85, cited in Davidson, p. 67. Dumézil's analysis deserves to be quoted verbatim: "Les berserkir, en effet, sont les 'jeunes'; ils assument dans la vie des sociétés germaniques cette fonction de fantaisie, de tumulte et de violence qui n'est pas moins nécessaire à l'équilibre collectif que la fonction conservatrice (ordre, tradition, respect des tabous) qu'assument les . . . vieux." Child's reference to the Berserkers is only one indication of how extensive her knowledge of Norse mythology was. She seems to have derived her information on the Berserkers from Samuel Laing's translation of the Ynglinga Saga, in The Heimskringla; or, Chronicle of the Kings of Norway. Translated from the Icelandic of Snorro Sturleson, with a Preliminary Dissertation (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844), 1: 221. The other main source to which she would have had access is Paul Henri Mallet, Northern Antiquities: Or, ADescription of the Manners, Customs, Religion and Laws of the Ancient Danes, Including those of Our Own Saxon Ancestors. With a Translation of the Edda, or System of Runic Mythology and Other Ancient Pieces from the Ancient Icelandic Tongue, trans. Thomas Percy, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: C. Stewart, 1809).
30. See Mallet, 2: 63; Rooth, pp. 211-12; Davidson, p. 176.
31. Mallet, 2: 61; Davidson, p. 178.
32. Bettelheim, p. 173.
33. Mallet, 2: 113-14; Rooth, pp. 156-61.
34. Davidson, pp. 67-68.
35. Pointed out to me by Jane Morgan Franklin.
36. Pointed out to me by Dorothy Ross.
37. In her book Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790-1860 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985), Jane Tompkins offers a brilliant challenge to the notion that the canon is founded on literary merit; see especially her chapters "Masterpiece Theater: The Politics of Hawthorne's Literary Reputation" and "But Is It Any Good?" Kolodny, "Dancing through the Minefield," pp. 10-16, offers a similar challenge to this notion. For an especially sophisticated theoretical analysis of literary evaluation and canon formation, see Barbara Herrnstein Smith, "Contingencies of Value," Critical Inquiry 10 (1983), 1-35.
38. See R. W. B. Lewis, The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1955); Richard Slotkin, Regeneration through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860 (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1973); and Fiedler, pp. xx-xxi.
39. See Kolodny, "Dancing through the Minefield," pp. 12-13; also "A Map for Rereading," passim.
Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky (essay date winter 1986-1987)
SOURCE: Rubin-Dorsky, Jeffrey. "Washington Irving and the Genesis of the Fictional Sketch." In Critical Essays on Washington Irving, edited by Ralph M. Aderman, pp. 217-35. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall and Co., 1990.
[In the following essay, which was originally published in the winter 1986-1987 edition of Early American Literature, Rubin-Dorsky explores Irving's lasting contribution to the fictional autobiographical sketch with The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.]
With the publication of [The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. ] in 1819-1820, Washington Irving transformed the popular travel sketch into a form uniquely his own, the fictional sketch. At such a crucial juncture in his career, when he had taken the bold step of making literature his profession (an achievement of which no other American could yet boast), Irving needed both a critical and financial success. The "travel sketch," a prose composition dedicated to expressing the rapture of an observer in the presence of Old World treasures, had become a fixture of both English and American magazines and therefore possessed this commercial appeal. Moreover, since the travel sketch relied heavily on recognizable detail, Irving realized that if he appropriated the form he could capitalize on his considerable artistic talent and his sharp appreciation for the visual element in prose. Indeed, by making his new fictional form an intensely descriptive one he was able to endow it with an aesthetic appeal that went far beyond the rather crude explication of scene and setting of the typical travel sketch. At the same time, plagued by deep personal problems, Irving saw that as he adopted the form he could simultaneously adapt it to his own psychological purposes. Although the consecutive losses of loved ones and the failure of the family business traumatized him, they were also responsible for the personal resonance of his sketch, for the pieces that composed his famous miscellany were attempts at self-discovery and evaluation, taking for their substance his actual physical and emotional experiences as he wandered through England in the years 1815-1819. In order to achieve this end he fictionalized the form, primarily by developing a filtering persona known as Geoffrey Crayon, and by expressing his emotions within a narrative, as opposed to a documentary, framework.1 The innovation of Crayon, whose "adventures" in and around London mirror his own, gained for Irving the great advantage of being able to examine and reflect upon these experiences while remaining detached enough to perceive their significance. Crayon, in other words, became a buffer between Irving and the world. Thus, the creation of a fictional traveler/persona solved an emotional need and concurrently led to the beginning of a new genre in American literature.
A brief illustration shows how much fullness and complexity Irving added to the standard travel sketch. In "London Antiques," Crayon sets out in search of "reliques of a 'foregone world' locked up in the heart of the city." Passing through a "gothic gateway of mouldering antiquity" and stepping into a building beyond, he pauses to loiter about the great hall where he kindles his imagination by meditating upon the possible "ancient usages of this edifice." When a line of "grey headed old men, clad in long black cloaks" files past him, each one staring at him with a pale face while uttering not a word, he convinces himself that he is lost in a "realm of shadows, existing in the very centre of substantial realities." Hoping to discover the truly magical, the quintessentially romantic, Crayon enters the inner recesses of this "most venerable and mysterious pile." The old grey men in black mantles—to Crayon the "pervading genii of the place"—are everywhere, leading him to believe that he has stumbled into a medieval college of magical sciences, with black-cloaked old men as "professors of the black art."
Irving builds gothic suspense as Crayon attempts to lose himself in the shadowy grandeurs of his own speculations. In a chamber hung round with all kinds of weird and "uncouth objects," including "strange idols and stuffed alligators," "bottled serpents and monsters," Crayon encounters a small, shriveled old man. "[H]is quaint physiognomy, his obsolete garb, and the hideous and sinister objects by which he [is] surrounded" persuade Crayon that he is the "Arch Mago" who rules over this "magical fraternity." However, this last discovery punctures Crayon's expectations about the "antiquated pile" and its inhabitants, for he learns that the building is none other than the Charter House, an "ancient asylum for superannuated tradesmen and decayed householders." The black-cloaked magi are "pensioners returning from morning service in the chapel"; the arch magician of curiosities is actually one John Hallum, a garrulous old man who has decorated the "final nestling place of his old age with reliques and rarities picked up in the course of his life." After all his peregrinations, suppositions, and reveries, Crayon winds up the dupe of his own desires for something divine hidden under the mundane, at once arcane and mystical, at the heart of old England (Sketch Book 192-96).
Irving's achievement here is significant in three ways. Commercially, though Crayon may start out by approximating the ordinary traveler, his quickly straying from the usual path of the Grand Tour assures Irving a New World audience hungry for unique views of the Old. Visually, he creates a vivid, evocative, highly stylized portrait of the Charter House, yet one that is far more descriptive than any number of subjectively rendered travel sketches. And emotionally, while Crayon opts for imaginative flight over reality-based perception, Irving indulges in the fiction but uses the comic deflation of his persona to pull himself away from it. Crayon's heightened desire to inhabit an ideal world imbued with poetic feeling and transcendent wonder contrasts sharply with Irving's sober recognition that at its best reality affords little more than the commonplace, a bit of old style "amidst the modern changes and innovations of London." Humor may not resolve this tension, but it does diffuse some of the anxiety; it also enhances the charm and thus the appeal of Irving's persona. The commercial, visual, and emotional aspects of the Irvingesque sketch, therefore, are its distinguishing features and explain the changes Irving wrought in the popular travel pieces of the day as he sought both literary recognition and psychological stability.
Although Irving described his efforts in the "Prospectus" to the first number ofThe Sketch Book as an "experiment" (300), it is not surprising that so supple a form had significant application for other nineteenth-century American authors concerned with "seeing" themselves properly against an alien background. The list of those who adopted, and in the process modified, the sketch for their own purposes is large, and includes Hawthorne, Melville, Mark Twain, Howells, and James. What is surprising, however, is that despite Irving's unquestioned success, and despite his opening up a rich vein that others were to mine, no one has analyzed how the sketch evolved as his individual means of literary expression. It is this peculiar void, both in Irving scholarship and in American cultural history, that the present study seeks to fill. Since Irving's great strengths were a flair for style and an instinctive sense for structure, along with a keen appreciation for the dominant taste of his audience, his literary self-reflections reveal almost no concern with the rudiments and exigencies of form. Neither was he given to analyzing his own influences and progression. Thus, it is necessary to play literary detective and piece these together, to examine, that is, via letters, journals, notebooks, and the relevant cultural evidence, Irving's creative talents and literary habits and the crises in his life that directly affected his sensibility in order to understand how he transformed his experience into a new fictional mode. Accordingly, each section below focuses on one of the three simultaneously occurring phases in the genesis of Irving's form.
1. THE VOGUE OF "SKETCHING": THE COMMERCIAL ASPECT
On August 19, 1817, in the time ofThe Sketch Book 's prenatal period, Irving wrote to his brother Peter of having met, at the publisher John Murray's, the author Isaac D'Israeli and an artist "just returned from Italy with an immense number of beautiful sketches of Italian scenery and architecture" (Letters [Letters: Volume 1, 1802-1823 ] 1:488). That Irving had met an artist carrying a portfolio filled with sketches was certainly not unusual; the continent had been opened up for travel after the Napoleonic Wars, and visitors from all nations, especially Americans, came in ever expanding numbers. Among them were a large number of painters, who sketched the ruins in the Campagna or medieval streets of Italy, or for that matter, throughout Europe (Baker 2, 24; Wright 20). But professional and even amateur artists were not the only ones to take pencil in hand; dabbling in the fine arts became somewhat of a vogue, and it was quite common to see travelers and tourists making sketches of the more famous monuments, or of a beautiful landscape, or of a peasant in a picturesque native costume, or even of the paintings that they had viewed in the museums and galleries. Even though Irving saw himself as an artist, he was still quite typical of the travelers of his time: on one page of his journal he records that he "stopped at a Gallery & sketched," called on some acquaintances, one of whom was finishing a "Landscape sketch," and drove out to the country to see some friends, where "Miss Lowenstern sketched my likeness in her Sketch Book" (Journals and Notebooks 3:180). This journal also shows that frequently when guests called on Irving they would bring the sketches they had made on their travels and the group would spend the evening looking them over and enjoying the memories of previous experiences. Many of the travelers assumed this practice with no prior conception or aesthetic interest in mind and simply interlaced drawings and sketches with the written accounts in their journals, as if the verbal descriptions alone were not enough to do justice to the particular scenes and delights they had witnessed. The more sophisticated among them, however, conceived of the sketch as a way of commemorating, or giving permanence to, the responses that the beauties and wonders of the Old World had elicited from them. It was not visual accuracy they sought, but a deeper understanding of their experience, an attempt to grasp imaginatively the world they were encountering for the first time.
Irving acknowledges this vogue of sketching—and makes good use of it in terms of the commercial attractiveness of his book—first of all by entitling it The Sketch Book, and furthermore when he writes in his introduction that while he has "witnessed many of the shifting scenes of life," he has not "studied them with the eye of a philosopher," but rather with the "sauntering gaze" of the "humble lovers of the picturesque" ("The Author's Account of Himself" 9). And like these travelers he has gotten up a few sketches "for the entertainment of [his] friends." Moreover, Irving knew that, as the Quarterly Review commented in 1829, "Authorship and traveling are all the fashion,"2 and although most of these journals and travelogues were a tedious collection of accounts and reminiscences of the obvious highlights, the reading public had a large appetite for them. Even more significantly, he was also aware of, and using to his advantage, the fact that the proliferation of travel writing, coupled with the concomitant fad of sketching, had given rise to a new term, the "travel sketch," which was used rather loosely as a descriptive label for a brief piece of writing that sought to present mainly the author's dominant impressions of his travels, including his responses to the mandatory sights. Occasionally, in the hands of a more thoughtful writer, the travel sketch became an informative, intelligent vehicle through which descriptions of the manners, customs, and habits of a group were conveyed to a more discerning public—though no one except Irving transformed it into a new genre. In any case, the English periodicals seized upon the travel sketch, incorporating it as a way of expanding their contents. They also began to appear in American magazines and newspapers, many of which simply reprinted, without permission, articles that had appeared in the English journals, as Irving undoubtedly knew from his wide reading and his brief stint as editor of the Analectic Magazine (1812-1814). Most often these "sketches" bore only a vague resemblance to finished drawings; unlike Irving's work, there was nothing especially visual, nor anything that showed creative ability or aesthetic sensitivity, in these writings. Since travelers had little or no interest in even the most rudimentary requirements of literary composition, sketch became a handy term to adopt; moreover, the suggestiveness of the word—i.e., an unfinished production, the working-out of an idea rather than the idea itself—gave legitimacy to uneven, and indeed often slipshod, presentations.
By using the term sketch to categorize his literary composition, Irving traded on these common and current associations, although there was nothing careless about the writing, construction, or publication of The Sketch Book. The popular portrait of the elegant idler indulging in sentiment, dallying with pen and pencil, and dashing offThe Sketch Book is quite incorrect. Despite Hazlitt's remarks that he was a "mere trifler—a filligree man—an English litterateur at second hand" (Conversations 87), Irving was extremely serious about his literary endeavor.3 Yet it is also true that he remained hesitant and doubtful about reappearing in print and that he was unable to compose for long periods of time. He often maintained a defensive posture about his writing, referring, for example, to a series of highly detailed and nicely executed descriptions of a Greenwich pensioner as "scribbling" (Letters 1:450-52). Such a casual remark was meant to suggest that he had expended no real energy in the expression and was even less concerned about the outcome, neither of which was the case. Moreover, his assumed skepticism about authorship served as a screen between himself and his audience, shielding him from the hostile response he dreaded. That he was fearful of public disapproval and uncertain of his own ability to sustain creative energy may be seen from his comments in the "Prospectus," where he informed his readers that "his writings will partake of the fluctuations of his own thoughts and feelings" and that "he will not be able to give them that tranquil attention necessary to finished composition" (300). Irving's undercutting of his own efforts is only one aspect of a tendency toward self-mocking irony, a strain in his personality largely responsible for the comic effects inThe Sketch Book, generally expressed through the perspective and mental processes of Geoffrey Crayon. And in this regard, we should notice how Irving's full title.The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., dramatically calls attention to the observing sketcher while the conventional title "Sketches of . . . ," however impressionistic the volume may have been, emphasizes the object or place being sketched.
Unlike Irving, most would-be travel writers had no literary talent to speak of, but the popularity of travel literature was so enormous, and the public expectation and demand so great, that it was incumbent upon these fledgling authors to include in their journals, letters, notes, memoranda, and accounts, however hasty and unpolished, some verbal "sketches" of their encounters with European culture. The extent to which this was true can be seen in the work of Zachariah Allen, an industrial traveler who, in The Practical Tourist (1832), said that "the principal design of the writer of the following pages was to examine the effects of the important improvements in machinery upon the state of society at the present time." Unlike the usual traveler in Europe, he had not come to "indulge exclusively in the pleasures afforded to taste and intellect, by the examination of splendid buildings, paintings, statues, and libraries." Rather, he chose to spend his time by "entering apartments filled with the smoke of furnaces, and resounding with the deafening noise of machinery, or by conversing with men devoted to the common handicraft labors of life." However, "in accommodation to the taste of general readers, sketches of scenery, habits, and manners have been introduced to vary and enliven the subjects of remark" (quoted in Spiller 190). And as late as 1839, Francis J. Grund's book, Aristocracy in America, from the Sketch-Book of a German Nobleman, offering a contemporary portrait of Jacksonian democracy, would still play on the idea of a rambling traveler making occasional drawings.
Another aspect of this revitalized interest in the fine art of sketching was the formation in 1799 in London of the Sketching Society, an organization that considered drawing and sketching not simply as diversion, but rather as a serious pastime in which both the intellectual and emotional faculties were engaged in an aesthetic contemplation of the environment (Reynolds 92-95).4 The society (which survived for over fifty years) also encouraged its members to sketch from their own imaginations scenes that were suggested to them from literature, especially "passages creating a generalized poetical image." As a result of this latter activity, the Sketching Society fostered the application of poetic feeling to painting, including landscape painting (Reynolds 44), and in this respect it functioned remarkably like Irving's writings that have provided the landscapes of the upper Hudson with permanent poetical associations. If we think specifically in terms of Irving's re-creation of the sketch as a fictional form, however, the existence of the Sketching Society bears witness to the currency of certain trends and ideas about visual representation that, if they did not directly affect his choice of form, at least resemble his artistic designs. It thus indicates in a subtle way the extent of Irving's awareness of important aesthetic shifts and developments of his time, as well as highlighting the role the visual arts played in the formulation of his literary strategies.
2. IRVING AND THE PAINTERS: THE VISUAL ASPECT
Irving's literary sketches call attention to object as well as to observer and therefore rely upon a strong visual rendering of the realistic details of scene and setting. For example, in "The Inn Kitchen," a brief sketch that prefaces the tale of "The Spectre Bridegroom," Crayon's evocative description of domestic harmony among a group of travelers invites the reader to share with them the warmth and comfort emanating from "a great burnished stove, that might have been mistaken for an altar, at which they were worshipping":
It was covered with various kitchen vessels of resplendent brightness; among which steamed and hissed a huge copper tea kettle. A large lamp threw a strong mass of light upon the group, bringing out many odd features in strong relief. Its yellow rays partially illumined the spacious kitchen, dying duskily away into remote corners, except where they settled in mellow radiance on the broad side of a flitch of bacon, or were reflected back from well scoured utensils, that gleamed from the midst of obscurity. A strapping Flemish lass, with long golden pendants in her ears, and a necklace with a golden heart suspended to it, was the presiding priestess of the temple.
(Sketch Book 119)
Having concentrated the reader's attention on this glowing sanctuary from night's dark chill, Crayon then fixes his focus on the "corpulent old Swiss" storyteller "dressed in a tarnished green travelling jacket, with a broad belt round his waist, and a pair of overalls, with buttons from the hips to the ankles." "I wish my readers could imagine," Crayon says in conclusion, "the old fellow lolling in a huge arm chair, one arm akimbo, the other holding a curiously twisted tobacco pipe, formed of genuine écume de mer, decorated with silver chain and silken tassel—his head cocked on one side, and a whimsical cut of the eye occasionally, as he related the following story" (Sketch Book 120). Yet it is precisely because his imagination is aroused by the portrait of the playful narrator that Irving's reader eagerly awaits the tale to follow.
In a revealing way, moreover, Crayon's pictures are also metaphorical reflections of his psychological state. In the above passage, his likening the stove to an "altar" and the kitchen maid to a "priestess" suggests that for the solitary voyager the scene is one of communion (the inn kitchen becomes the "temple"), a gathering of souls to relieve weariness and boredom. Crayon's participation through the act of listening evinces his need for meaningful ritual at the same time that it momentarily alleviates his sense of isolation. The counterpart to this mood occurs when anxiety is too great to be transposed into comforting ceremony. For example, during the pilgrim's initial departure in "The Voyage," his reveries and speculations "on the tranquil bosom of a summer's sea" are interrupted by the sight of a wrecked ship, prompting self-reflexive meditations on the fate of the lost crew. The ravages of an ensuing storm, evoked in nightmarish images and onomatopoetic language—"a fearful sullen sound of rushing waves and broken surges"; "the whistling of the wind through the rigging . . . like funereal wailings"; "the straining and groaning of bulk heads . . . in the weltering sea" (14)—mirror the unsteady movements of Crayon's distraught mind, while his personification of death "raging round this floating prison" exposes his fear of discontinuity, his anxiety at having left behind the "settled life" of the known world.
This painterly quality of Irving's prose can be traced to a talent for drawing and sketching that manifested itself early on in his life and that he continued to develop throughout his career. In the notebooks and journals that Irving kept on his first European voyage he made some forty-odd sketches and drawings, which reveal his interest in the people he encountered and the romantic aspects of the landscape he traversed (Journals and Notebooks 1:45 plates following 346). Obviously most of them were made in haste, but a considerable number do bring the subject to life. When in Rome in 1805 Irving met the American painter Washington Allston, who had gone abroad in 1800 to study art, he considered staying on and training himself for a career in the fine arts (Duyckinck 2:18-20). Irving had, as he said, a "strong inclination" for drawing, and Allston, after looking over his portfolio of sketches, declared that Irving had considerable potential. Allston encouraged him in this proposed endeavor, but eventually Irving reconsidered and decided against the venture, not, however, before he had sharpened his critical vision under Allston's tutelage. His biographer believes that Irving made a judicious decision, for in respect to painting, his continued interest "never transcended intelligent appreciation" (Williams, Life 1:65). However, this sense of "appreciation"—in effect, the development of an aesthetic sensibility—was just the way in which Irving's prose sketches benefited from his involvement in the graphic arts (Pauly 491-92).5 From Allston he learned how to concentrate his sight solely on one discrete object at a time because, as he later recalled it, "the mind can only take in a certain number of images and impressions directly; by multiplying the number you weaken each, and render the whole confused and vague" (Duyckinck 2:18). Coupled with a "talent not unlike Thackeray's" (Williams, Life 1:65), this guidance helped him rid his prose style of abstractions as it encouraged the development of a more visually oriented prose form.
Irving maintained his association with painters throughout his long stay in Europe from 1815 to 1832. Chief among them were Charles Robert Leslie, a young American artist and friend of Allston's, and Stuart Newton, nephew of the great American portrait painter, Gilbert Stuart. Leslie has testified to Irving's visual acumen and how he, as a painter, was able to profit from their friendship: "You opened to me a new range of observation in my own art, and a perception of the qualities and character of things which painters do not always imbibe from each other" (quoted in Williams, Life 1:169). The influence was mutually enriching: during the years when Irving first conceived ofThe Sketch Book, and while it was being completed, polished, and published, he conscientiously applied himself to a study of Leslie's art, which came to have an enormous hold over him. Leslie was primarily a genre painter, taking his scenes of human activity from everyday life and, even more, from literary sources. His work, therefore, has a "decided literary cast" to it (Prown 5). Irving sensed the possibilities in the fusion of the mediums—after all, what he had seen on his journeys was always an amalgam of the actual scene he encountered with the associations he brought to it from his vast literary heritage—and wondered whether he could create verbally what Leslie was accomplishing visually. It was about this time, late in 1818, that Irving first invented his fictional traveler—i.e., the "Geoffrey Crayon" persona—and decided to publish his sketches in clusters of three or four, each cluster a group portrait of England, with an occasional added view of America.
In identifying his work more and more with the visual arts, Irving turned to the verbal sketching techniques with which he had earlier experimented. In an 1818 notebook, he dashed off a typical pencil sketch of an old man's head accompanied by this laconic verbal description: "Old crown of hat without rim[—]purple plush vest[—]tarnished old leather breeches that reach below calves of the legs—worsted stocking & land shoes" (Journals and Notebooks 2:274). A crucial difference between these later verbal and visual activities and the earlier ones is that now Irving was consciously trying to fuse the mediums into a new form. Indeed, he had really come to view nature and human activity with a painter's eye, which means, if nothing else, with the intention of reproducing it. The reminiscence of William Preston, a traveling companion with whom he toured Scotland in 1817, points to the way Irving linked his talent for drawing and sketching to a kind of writing that would accommodate his acute visual sense:
Irving decided that literature was to be his profession and the means of support. He had taken lessons in drawing, and had a decided turn for the art. He sketched very well, even in the estimation of Washington Allston, Leslie, and Stewart [sic] Newton, and it was perhaps some feeling of this kind that suggested to him the notion of his Sketch Book. He turned it [over] in his mind— spoke a good deal to me about it—occasionally asked me when he gave an account of anything that touched him, how would that do in print. We went to the Athenaeum together and on our return he jotted down what he saw or what had struck him.
That Irving's prose easily translates to a visual medium is a measure of his success. He inspired painters to give artistic expression to his creations via original compositions; among these, of course, are the famous haunting visions of John Quidor. And because artists could easily visualize in their minds the scenes he was creating, his work has been more handsomely illustrated than that of any other writer in American literary history.
In fact, Irving's literary designs were brought into clearer focus by a set of illustrations that were made for a third edition ofKnickerbocker's History that he was planning to bring out in 1818. Irving, in need of money and support, solicited drawings from Allston and Leslie, believing that a more elegant, illustrated edition would encourage a greater sale. He was delighted with the results, he informed Allston, not simply because the designs were beautifully executed and would enhance the new edition, but more so because they provided him with a fresh impetus in relation to his own writing: "I dwell on these little sketches, because they give me quite a new train of ideas in respect to my work: and I only wish I had it now to write, as I am sure I should conceive the scenes in a much purer style; having these pic[tures] before me as corrections of the grossierté into which the sent[iment of?] a work of humour is apt to run" (Letters 1:479; original brackets). It is most likely that what Irving consciously meant here is that the contrast of Allston's carefully delineated pictures with the fulsome burlesque humor ofA History of New York made him feel that his caricature had been too excessive in that earlier work. The robustness of spirit prevalent inKnickerbocker's History had already been quite muted by the loss of his beloved and the failure of the family business, so it is unlikely that he was directly inspired by these pictures to adopt the more genteel tones ofThe Sketch Book, though what he admires about the drawings—their "delicate humor," "graceful composition," and "rural air"—are qualities equally attributable toThe Sketch Book. But there was a definite link between Allston's drawings and the visual sketches that he had already made in his notebooks, even though it is true that his own sketches result from a desire for "aesthetic sensitivity" rather than "artistic achievement" (Pauly 491). These associations confirmed the ideas he was currently entertaining on literary production. If his previous work could "present such pleasing images to imaginations like [Allston's] & Leslie's" (Letters 1:479), was he not now moving in the right direction in especially concentrating on his talent for visual prose in his new work? Though he probably would have liked to have rewritten theHistory to correct the "impurities," by August 1817, only three months after he wrote this letter to Allston, he had completed the drafts of nine sketches that were to appear inThe Sketch Book (Williams, Life 1:168). And since that famous work was designed to express his sensory and emotional experience, he made a fortuitous choice in relying on visual detail to capture and present the essence of that experience.
3. THE SKETCH AS A PERSONAL FORM: THE EMOTIONAL ASPECT
Irving's fictional sketches, then, besides being more painterly and precise than the ordinary travel sketch, also have an emotional depth below the artistic surface. In fact, beyond its development of narrative, the sketch is characterized by the moods and tones of personality, ostensibly Crayon's, but certainly reflective of Irving's. Whatever "happens" in the sketch, happens inside of Crayon; this internalizing process colors the sketch and turns what began seemingly as an objective observation into a subjective reverie (Hedges 145-46).6 The most dynamic aspect of the form, this personal element is also the most difficult to trace to its origins. It is clear, however, that the emphasis on self, on the concern for the individual rather than the society, is one of the principles at the very heart of Romanticism. G. Harrison Orians has noted that one of the dominant characteristics of early nineteenth-century literature is "the return to the nature of individual man, paralleled by an assertion of the importance of personality" (166-67). The Irvingesque sketch takes its place as one of the romantic forms of literature that emerged after neoclassical values and traditions lost their hegemony. Two possible reasons for this connection therefore suggest themselves: Irving was either influenced by the Romantic movement or guided by a romanticist.
Regarding the former possibility, it is true that Irving was developing the fictional sketch during the very years that the gradual shift from the objective to the subjective mode in literature was occurring, when in general authors were beginning to turn from thoughtful observation of life to the sheer revelation of personality. For all that has been said about his romanticism, however, Irving was not consciously working in this revelatory vein; he did not, like the great Romantic writers, boldly project the self onto the world's surface, nor did he journey into the interior and display a self struggling through inner division into growth. In fact, like most American writers of this time, he retreated from this "extreme subjectivism"; moreover, the philosophical and ontological depths of Romanticism were beyond him. Yet, to the extent that external scenes and recreated experiences take on meaning only in their relation to Crayon—to the extent, that is, that the perspective has shifted from an emphasis on the recognized social world to a preoccupation with the individual's private perceptions—the sketch partakes of the new subjectivism of the early nineteenth century. Not a Shelley or a Wordsworth, Irving chose to pursue the self metaphorically as it was reflected in its surroundings.
If the currents of nineteenth-century Romanticism circling about Irving did not cause this shift in perspective—did not, in other words, lead to the creation of an alter ego named Geoffrey Crayon—then perhaps, as F. L. Pattee asserted, he was changed from an eighteenth-century classicist to a nineteenth-century romanticist through the reading of Walter Scott (7-9). Such a claim has validity: there is no doubt that from the reading of the Waverley novels, from the direct stimulus of Scott's personality, from the conversations Irving had with him on his visit to Abbotsford in 1817, and from his travels through the Scottish terrain near Edinburgh, Irving absorbed the ambience of romantic literature in which the older and more accomplished writer was already steeped. Scott, with his innumerable border tales and legendary stories, filled his mind with a "world of ideas, images, and impressions," Irving told his brother Peter in 1817 (Letters 1:501). Certainly Scott directed Irving to a wealth of legend and folklore, especially of German origin, and showed him the richness of antiquarian material. From Scott, too, Irving borrowed elements of the gothic—spectral bridegrooms, demon lovers, pumpkin-headed ghosts—that appear in his works. Irving also shared with Scott an affinity for picturesque landscape, and surely in some of the areas ofThe Sketch Book Scott's love of romantic atmosphere can be detected. Yet all of these elements represent only the accoutrements of literary romanticism, the artifice of the quaint and the occult with which the standard popular literature of the day was draped. However, since Scott did not see literature as conditioned by the literary creator's personality, his influence was not responsible for the more subtle, more intriguing aspects of the sketch form. By adopting and yet adapting the travel sketch, and by developing the persona of Geoffrey Crayon, Irving moved beyond his mentor in his approach to fiction.7
To understand fully how Irving came to mold the sketch into a romantic form, one must measure the effects of his intimate emotional life at the time he was writingThe Sketch Book. In 1817-1818, while he was in England, he suffered terrible anxiety and emotional strain over the collapse of the family business and the attendant threat of impoverishment. Although he was only a nominal partner in the firm, he believed that he shared in his brother's "notoriety" (Williams, Life 1:151). This "horrible ordeal of bankruptcy" cast a terrible gloom upon Irving, as he agonized to his brother William over the plight of their family: "My heart is torn every way by anxiety for my relatives. My own individual interests are nothing. The merest pittance would content me if I could crawl out from among these troubles and see my connections safe around me" (Letters 1:457). As much as he worried over this immediate situation and suffered from a deeply felt sense of shame, Irving was also thrown back to a previous period in his life when he had lost his betrothed, Matilda Hoffman, to an early death by consumption. When she died in April 1809, Irving suffered waves of despair; in 1817 he evinced the identical symptoms: sleeplessness, loss of appetite, extreme depression, nightmares, fits of nervousness. In both instances he took the same initial measure: "I shut myself up from society," he wrote in his most personally revealing letter, "—and would See no one" (Letters 1:743). In his psyche, the new and the old sorrows formed a continuous link; brooding upon one he brooded upon the other. In the midst of this distress, another calamity befell him: he was told of his mother's death on April 9, 1817. This great loss paralleled his former one; he now feared that all the human contact he had left, the protection of his brothers upon which he had always relied, would also be taken from him. In his isolation the images of failure, loss, and bereavement crowded into his mind. The world was again, as it had been in 1809, an alien place to him. While others rejoiced at the restoration of peace brought by the end of the Napoleonic Wars, his hopes had been "overwhelmed" (Journals and Notebooks 2:174).
The central entry in this notebook of 1817 shows quite vividly that the grief Irving suffered over the financial ruin of the business reawakened and deepened his former grief over his early loss.8 In a passage apostrophizing Matilda Hoffman, Irving recollects their parting scene and recalls his misery: "Oh Matilda where was the soulfelt devotion—the buoyancy—the consciousness of worth & happiness that once seemed to lift me from the earth when our eyes interchanged silent but eloquent vows of affection . . . how lovely was then my life—How has it changed since—what scenes have I gone through since thou hast left me—what jarring collisions with the world—what heartless pleasures—what sordid pursuits—what gross associations—what rude struggles—. . . The romance of life is past" (Journals and Notebooks 2:185-86). The pain in this passage suggests the empty, dispirited years that passed between Matilda Hoffman's death and Irving's new tragedy; once again, he collided with life's mutability. Yet his biographer warns that "precisely what this event [Matilda Hoffman's death] meant to Irving, or what its influence was upon his writing, no one knows." "Attributions . . . of the influence of Matilda Hoffman upon his essays mean very little" (Williams, Notes 26).9 We cannot say that the memory of Matilda Hoffman is solely responsible for the mood of reverie inThe Sketch Book or the profound melancholy of "St. Mark's Eve" inBracebridge Hall. As wise as these cautionary words are, however, they do not invalidate the notebook entries that indicate a definite effect upon Irving and precise connections between the two periods in his life. The importance of the link is that the death of Matilda Hoffman and the recurring crisis affected not individual passages and particular sketches, but the whole genesis of Irving's fictional sketch form.
What exactly happened to Irving emotionally in 1809, and how that crisis recurred in 1817, and even more, how that led him to an original form, are crucial questions that demand scrutiny and analysis. In particular, Irving twice exhibited a pattern of behavior with three distinct phases: seclusion, social detachment, and authorship. First, his distress was so great that he could find no comfort in either solitude or company. In both crises of his life he tried to shut himself away: in 1809 he sought the silence of a country seat at Kinderhook, just outside New York, but returned periodically to the city; in 1817 he retreated, first to Birmingham at the home of his sister, then to his room in London, yet in the city he found it necessary to roam the streets when he could bear the seclusion no more. In his confessional letter of 1823, he wrote of the earlier time:
I cannot tell you what a horrid state of mind I was in for a long time—I seemed to care for nothing—the world was a blank to me—I abandoned all thoughts of the Law—I went into the country, but could not bear solitude yet could not enjoy society—There was a dismal horror continually in my mind that made me fear to be alone—I had often to get up in the night & seek the bedroom of my brother, as if the having a human being by me would relieve me from the frightful gloom of my own thoughts.
This was certainly a change from the "fairy land" that the world had once been (Letters 1:738). Second, his change in character and attitude remained permanent; Irving was never able to assimilate himself into the world as he once had done. There would be no more melding into the dreamy surroundings of Sleepy Hollow or elsewhere. His estrangement was permanent: ". . . the despondency I had suffered for a long time in the course of this attachment, and the anguish that attended its catastrophe seemed to give a turn to my whole character, and threw some clouds into my disposition which have ever since hung about it" (Letters 1:740). Third, in each case, either as an attempt to tame moods of despair, or in the belief that solace was attainable there, Irving took up writing: "The idea suddenly came to return to my pen" (Letters 1:743). In 1809 he returned toA History of New York and reworked the original conception, and in 1817 he began the sketches that were to become The Sketch Book.
Grief implanted in Irving a strong recognition of the essential separateness of the world and the self; in addition, the self, conscious of its vulnerability, was forced to take refuge in its own repository of feelings. In time it came to regard those feelings as of paramount importance. People, places, and objects that had previously been part of a vast panoramic scene, capable of producing pleasant and soothing impressions, were now filtered through a consciousness that did not just record those impressions, but at the same time registered responses, because the troubled self had been bruised by disappointment, rebuff, and betrayal. The spellbinding regions of New York State and the wonders of the first European tour (1804-1805) had been viewed through the eyes of a very different Irving from the one who filled his sketchbook with the sights and sounds of old England. The "I" that emerged from the first emotional trauma and was reawakened in the second was not one to sing its own celebration; rather, it murmured the equivalent of "I must watch and protect myself." Although he was still attracted, although he still explored, pain had taught Irving to distrust the world.
When Irving sat down in 1817 to write of his experiences in England, his stance was not that of the objective observer or the detached spectator. He was, moreover, too close to his recent calamities and the memory of his earlier misfortunes for personal emotions to become completely assimilated in the process of creation, the artistic result being a correlative of these emotions. It was more a matter of discovering a form through which these emotions could be sifted and thereby examined. And the vehicle Irving discovered for accomplishing this—the essence, in fact, of his form—was his persona, Geoffrey Crayon. Sometimes humorous, occasionally foolish, often sentimental, Crayon expresses Irving's desires and exhibits his anxieties, yet because he is the major device in a narrative strategy he permits his author to re-experience the emotional traumas and frustrated hopes of his recent past without becoming psychologically immobilized by them. The emphasis in Irving's sketches, therefore, is always on Crayon: the need for mystery and hidden meaning he brings to, and the frustrations, disappointments, and (occasionally) joys he extracts from his journeys into the dark recesses of the city or the rarely traversed areas of the country.
On one such peregrination about "the great metropolis" of London, described in "The Art of Book-Making," Crayon discovers the reading room of the British Museum. Comparing himself to a "Knight errant" about to enter the "portal of [an] enchanted castle," and the black-clothed men he spies about the place to a "body of Magi, deeply engaged in the study of occult sciences," Crayon believes he has stumbled upon an "enchanted library." But the "pale, studious personages, poring intently over dusty volumes, rummaging among mouldy manuscripts, and taking copious notes of their contents," are nothing more than a group of modern authors principally occupied in manufacturing books by borrowing thoughts and sentiments—"classic lore, or 'pure English undefiled'"—from the literature of the past. Crayon's humor turns into revulsion at this instance of shabby pilfering. Subsequently, he falls asleep and dreams that these literary pretenders are metamorphosed into a "ragged, thread bare throng," garmented in leaves of ancient books and manuscripts. Outraged at the plunderers for their scandalous behavior, the nearby hanging portraits of eminent writers suddenly come alive and dispel the parasites. Crayon laughs out loud at these fleeing bookworms, and the laughter wakes him from his uneasy dream at the same time that it alerts the librarian, who thereupon dismisses him for failing to present the necessary identification for admission (Sketch Book 61-66). In effect, Crayon's imagination self-reflexively expresses Irving's doubts and anxieties about his literary practices, as it transforms, in a humorously exaggerated fashion, what he [Crayon] has seen in the reading room into what Irving fears: that the fictional sketches of his experiences, fleshed-out by his reworking of the moods, descriptions, and nuances of feeling of his favorite writers (in fact, he himself prefaces at least two-thirds of the sketches with an epigraph from one of these revered authors) were only another form of imitation, similar to the productions of the seedy rag-pickers Crayon had envisioned (Kasson 37).
Burdened by insecurity over his professional commitment to literature and troubled about the substantiality of the form he had developed, Irving worried that like the patchwork productions of the "scholars" in the British Museum reading room, his creations did not have a life and meaning of their own. He feared, too, that his process of composing was just one more instance of "book making" and that he was a mediocre copy of one of the long line of writers who had described the British scene. And as an American ostensibly commenting upon English manners and customs, Irving could not help but speculate whether he would be viewed as an imposter or a fraud by the British, and as an affected fool by the Americans. The conflict in this particular sketch, however, is resolved in the same way as many of the other personal problems Irving dealt with inThe Sketch Book, through comedy and the good-natured mockery of his persona. The importance of Geoffrey Crayon here cannot be overstated: even though he has no "card of admission" to the British Museum reading room, as an original creation he gives to Irving, who heretofore felt that he had no legitimacy as a writer, admission to the world of professional authorship.
The sketch as Irving developed it, then, incorporated formal techniques by which the perceptions and responses of an unassertive, tentative observer could be tested against the landscape of the outside world. His speaker/persona alternatively seeks out and withdraws from a society that both fascinates him and threatens him—he desires both to see life and to maintain his distance from it (Hedges 148-49). The process, which is both narrative and psychological, is an intricate one: though it tends to reinforce Irving's sense of isolation, it also permits him the luxury of meditating on it under a fictional guise. Irving's form was so much a product of his personality—and so responsive to it—that the paradoxical desires of approach and withdrawal, and the variations in degree of separation and the emotions attendant upon it, make the relationship between observer and object a complex and intense one. Such an integral part of the Irvingesque sketch, the creation of a persona was an innovation that cleverly fulfilled his emotional needs while at the same time enhancing the commercial and artistic attractiveness of the new form.
Thus, what we have is a network of factors surrounding Irving's choice of the wordSketch to describe his fictional practices and his methods of distancing himself from his emotional experience inThe Sketch Book. His talent for drawing, his keen powers of observation, his early and continued experiments in descriptive prose, and his long and mutually beneficial association with painters pointed to the possibilities of a form that relied heavily upon the creation of a strong visual sense in prose. By applying the terminology of one medium to another, he could transfer at least one of the essentials of crayon sketching—an imaginative grasp, understanding, and appreciation of the environment—to his own writing. The climate created by the sudden burst of travel in Europe after the Napoleonic Wars, including the accompanying travel writing and sketching (and the concurrent development of the travel sketch as a mainstay of the periodicals), suggested to him the means by which he could bring his endeavor for literary expression into line with public taste. The idea of a traveler making sketches also served a covert purpose, for it acted as an emotional camouflage behind which Irving could explore his own responses to a perplexing and often disturbing world. Through the multifaceted functioning of Crayon, Irving advanced his composition well beyond the usual travel pieces. In addition, by aligning his writings with a series of travel sketches he gained a considerable amount of maneuverability; as "travel sketches" were rambling, unstructured prose compositions, he could test his observations and experiment with a narrative technique without violating any strict generic rules. Moreover, the varied format permitted by a collection of fictional sketches enabled him to include within the contents ofThe Sketch Book several fully developed short stories, the most famous of which were, of course, "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." All of this proved to be a shrewd calculation on Irving's part: having accurately gauged the intensity of the American passion for news and picturesque views of the Old World, especially from England, he assured himself a solid readership, while at the same time freeing himself from the burdens of a rigid form. The result was a work of undeniable originality, though the full achievement ofThe Sketch Book has yet to be revealed.10
When Irving made the decision to write about his travels in England, his goal was professional success. For him this meant not only popular acclaim and financial remuneration, but critical recognition as well. Yet because the events of the past few years had eroded his confidence, he needed a form that could accommodate his doubts about their meaning and the stability of his point of view. As he understood it, a hesitant nature puzzling over the complexities and ambiguities of experience need not drift into confusion or vagueness if the author is in control of his medium. Adapting the readily available travel sketch for this purpose proved to be the perfect choice: at the same time that it enabled him to hold in check his continued vacillation and unresolved anxiety, it gave him license to present these to the world as the tentative perceptions and troubled vagaries of mind of his authorial persona, Geoffrey Crayon. Thus by building on his strengths (especially his skill as a painter in prose) while exorcising his weaknesses, he at once solved personal, professional, and artistic problems. The fact that many other nineteenth-century writers found the form amenable to their literary purposes attests to its durability and suggests that a study of the sketch tradition in our literature would be a profitable undertaking. But no matter what direction such a study takes, it would necessarily have to commence with the work of Washington Irving, where the sketch received its first genuine fictional expression.
1. As a miscellany, The Sketch Book contains a variety of literary forms, including the sketch, the short story, and the essay. In this paper I am concerned only with how Irving created the fictional sketch, which centers on the consciousness and activities of Geoffrey Crayon.
2. Dulles also points to the fact that "every important American writer of the first half of the nineteenth century lived or traveled abroad except Thoreau and Poe." Of course, huge numbers of minor figures also crossed the ocean, and it would seem that most of them presented their impressions of Europe in letters, journal, or diary to a welcoming public.
3. Of all Irving's contemporary critics, Hazlitt was the most severe. Five years earlier, in The Spirit of the Age, he had written that Irving "gives us very good American copies of our British Essayists and Novelists . . . [His] writings are literary anachronisms" (405).
4. I am indebted to Pauly (491-92, n. 8) for this source, and for his ideas regarding the possible influence of the practices of this society on Irving.
5. When Pauly mentions Irving's sketches in this context, he is apparently referring to what he calls the "hasty," "awkward" drawings Irving made in his travel journals. Irving's prose "sketches," however, are more significant in this regard than his pencil sketches.
6. Pauly sees Crayon as a "vehicle for a sentimental-romantic point of view," which is a narrow and confining way of explaining the function of this persona, though he does observe that "as a tourist in England, Crayon is consistently more interested in the effect of his experience than in the experience itself" (492). In addition, while Addison also might be considered "subjective" in his observations, he always delivered his criticism from a culturally sanctioned position. As "Mr. Spectator," he made judgments that carried the authority of eighteenth-century English society. Crayon has no such identification and no such certainty.
7. It might also be argued that the British gothic writers, in particular Ann Radcliffe, influenced Irving in the direction of romanticism. Indeed, in "Irving and the Gothic Tradition" John Clendenning shows the extent to which Irving was familiar with gothic motifs, with their "emphasis on the subjective rather than the objective" (97). Yet, however much Irving may have appropriated the genre for his own purposes—which were either outright parody or what Clendenning calls the "sportive gothic" (where Irving employs gothic "machinery" in a lighthearted way, as in "Sleepy Hollow," to illustrate the results of the disassociation of imagination from life)—the gothic tradition bears primarily upon Irving's short stories and does not explain the development of the sketch, which is essentially autobiographical in nature.
8. Aware of this depression, Richard Ellmann has approached "Rip Van Winkle" as a "parable" of Irving's life, that is, as "the presentation, with as much directness as possible, of the meaning of Irving's experience as a man in the world." What Ellmann says about "Rip" is true for all of Irving's best and most interesting work: it is a "sifting of his personal emotion" through a fictional medium and an assimilation of his experience into an artistic context that served both a literary and psychological need (27, col. 3).
9. But Williams adds that while the problem is "essentially insoluble, it is nevertheless important in a study of Irving's life and art."
10. The opening chapter in my forthcoming study, Adrift in the Old World: The Psychological Pilgrimage of Washington Irving (Univ. of Chicago Press, Fall 1987), details the development of the Crayonesque persona and, in coordination with this, highlights the anxiety, both personal and cultural, that Irving had to overcome to attain distinction as America's first successful author.
Baker, Paul R. The Fortunate Pilgrims: Americans in Italy, 1800-1860. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1964.
Clendenning, John. "Irving and the Gothic Tradition." Bucknell Review 12 (1964): 90-98.
Dulles, Foster Rhea. Americans Abroad: Two Centuries of European Travel. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1964.
Duyckinck, Evert A., and George Duyckinck. The Cyclopaedia of American Literature. Ed. M. Laird Simons. 2 vols. 1855; rpt. Philadelphia: T. Elwood Zell, 1875.
Ellmann, Richard. "Love in the Catskills." New York Review of Books 5 Feb. 1976: 27-28.
Grund, Francis J. Aristocracy in America, from the Sketch-Book of a German Nobleman. 1839; rpt. New York: Harper, 1959.
Hazlitt, William. The Spirit of the Age: or, Contemporary Portraits. 2nd ed. London: Henry Colburn, 1825.
——. Conversations of James Northcote, Esq. R.A. Ed. Frank Swinnerton. 1830; rpt. London: Frederick Muller, 1949.
Hedges, William L. Washington Irving: An American Study, 1802-1832. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1965.
Irving, Washington. The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Ed. Haskell Springer. Boston: Twayne, 1978.
——. Letters: Volume 1, 1802-1823. Ed. Ralph M. Aderman, et al. Boston: Twayne, 1978.
——. Journals and Notebooks: Volume 1, 1803-1806. Ed. Nathalia Wright. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1969.
——. Journals and Notebooks: Volume 2, 1807-1822. Ed. Walter A. Reichart and Lillian Schlissel. Boston: Twayne, 1981.
——. Journals and Notebooks: Volume 3, 1819-1827. Ed. Walter A. Reichart. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1970.
——. "St. Mark's Eve." In Bracebridge Hall. Ed. Herbert F. Smith. Boston: Twayne, 1977. 81-87.
Kasson, Joy. Artistic Voyagers: Europe and the American Imagination in the Works of Irving, Allston, Cole, Cooper, and Hawthorne. Contributions in American Studies, Number 60. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982.
Orians, G. Harrison. "The Rise of Romanticism, 1805-1855." In Transitions in American Literary History. Ed. Harry Hayden Clark. Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press, 1953. 163-244.
Pattee, Fred Lewis. The Development of the American Short Story: An Historical Survey. New York: Harper and Bros., 1923.
Pauly, Thomas H. "The Literary Sketch in Nineteenth Century America." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 17 (1975): 489-503.
Preston, William C. The Reminiscences of William C. Preston. Ed. Minnie C. Yarborough. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1933.
Prown, Jules David. "Washington Irving's Interest in Art and His Influence Upon American Painting." Master's thesis. Univ. of Delaware, 1956.
Reynolds, Graham, A Concise History of Watercolors. New York: Abrams, 1971.
Spiller, Robert E. The American in England in the First Half Century of Independence. New York: H. Holt and Co., 1926.
Williams, Stanley, ed. Notes While Preparing "Sketch Book" & c., 1817. By Washington Irving. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1927.
——. The Life of Washington Irving. 2 vols. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1935.
Wright, Nathalia. American Novelists in Italy. The Discoverers: Allston to James. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1965.
Albert J. von Frank (essay date autumn 1987)
SOURCE: von Frank, Albert J. "The Man That Corrupted Sleepy Hollow." Studies in American Fiction 15, no. 2 (autumn 1987): 129-41.
[In the following essay, von Frank argues that Ichabod Crane, the protagonist in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," should be read as an evil character who introduces sin and corruption into the town of Sleepy Hollow.]
Washington Irving's reputation as a genial writer—as, indeed, America's most genial writer—has been firmly established for a century and a half, despite general agreement that his most enduring works are satires.Knickerbocker's History maintains its good humor largely by making its narrator appear foolish, but it is harder to say what keeps "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" from seemingly overtly caustic, since in the portrait of Ichabod Crane Irving comes rather closer than in theHistory to adopting the controlling assumption of Augustan satire that the ridiculous and the evil are one. If Irving's genial reputation largely obscures the evil that Ichabod represents, it must also obscure the mythical structure of the story and, consequently, its formal relationship to such later works as "Young Goodman Brown," "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg," and a score of others. That Ichabod is evil needs all the more to be said since several modern readings of the story have made impressive moral claims on his behalf, or, alternatively, have transformed him into a pathetic hero, a figure more sinned against than sinning. One urges that he be taken "seriously as a symbol of man's higher aspirations," while another proclaims that "what he wants is simply a home, like anyone else."1 Even those who regard Ichabod as a threat to the Dutch community differ significantly in assessing the nature and seriousness of the problem he presents.2
As Donald Ringe pointed out in 1967, the story is a work of regional satire, pitting Dutch New York against the restless spirit of New England; it is a story that "pleads in effect for the values of the settler and conserver over those of the speculator and improver."3 Irving's satire, however, works most significantly not at the sociological or political level, but—as all permanently valuable satire does—at the level of the underlying moral issues. The success of the satirical method in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" lies in Irving's ability to see the familiar Yankee character as only superficially comic while at the same time discretely ventilating the deeper moral disease of which that comedy is the not quite independently conceived mask. The complexity of tone arising from such a polarized treatment may be traced more specifically to the two uses that Irving makes of the setting. The world of the New York Dutch is something more and other than an ethnic region realistically sketched; it is, indeed, a mythically conceived community, unfallen and changeless, a place of perfect ripeness. Irving establishes the setting in precisely this light and locates Ichabod's mock-heroic chivalry in the most incongruous of all possible contexts, while at the same time raising that portentous central issue of American literature, the moral spoliation of the New World garden. Inasmuch as both the serious and the comic themes converge on the setting, Irving has made the recovery of its meaning a precondition for any interpretation.
The setting is not a frontier. Although Daniel Hoffman has persuasively argued that the portrait of Brom Bones owes a great deal to the type of the "ringtailed roarer,"4 it is not a point with which one can do much more than Hoffman himself has done. Irving indicates that Sleepy Hollow is in most ways the precise reverse of a frontier. Not only has it long been a settled region (a rural one, to be sure), but it is also emphatically a European community with European values. Those forces which on the frontier operate to break down imported cultures—like the rest of the "incessant changes" that Irving abhors—are outside, beyond the "high hills," and simply do not function in "such little retired Dutch valleys, found here and there embosomed in the great state of New York," where "population, manners, and customs, remain fixed."5 The true American frontier figures but once in the story and then only by way of the sharpest contrast with the Hudson Valley setting: knowing no more than Milton's Satan "to value right / The good before him," Ichabod proposes to exchange the "middle landscape" of the Van Tassel patrimony for a tract of wild land in "Kentucky, Tennessee, or the Lord knows where" (p. 280).
If the setting is not part of the frontier, it is a version of the American pastoral as Leo Marx has defined it,6 though ironically the distinction of Irving's version is that his innocent shepherds are all Europeans. They figure in this magic landscape as the stewards of their own abundant fruitfulness, which fertility takes on a sacramental character in the description of Baltus Van Tassel's farm, where architecture and institutions melt imperceptibly into the activity of farming, and that into a humanized version of the natural order, all under the benediction of an approving sun:
Hard by the farm house was a vast barn, that might have served for a church; every window and crevice of which seemed bursting forth with the treasures of the farm; the flail was busily resounding within it from morning to night; swallows and martins skimmed twittering about the eaves, and rows of pigeons, some with one eye turned up, as if watching the weather, some with their heads under their wings, or buried in their bosoms, and others swelling, and cooing, and bowing about their dames, were enjoying the sunshine on the roof.
This sequestered community is more than home to a company of Dutch farmers; in its sheltered resistance to change, its ungrudging fruitfulness, its feminine character, and, ultimately, its vulnerability, it is the fully elaborated symbol of home as a romantic moral concept.
Like other ideal settings, the larger Dutch community, Sleepy Hollow, and the Van Tassel farm are enclosed gardens, here concentrically framed, inviting, seductive, and as dangerous to itinerants as the island of the Sirens or the land of the Lotos-Eaters. The societies sheltered by these nested gardens are themselves closed and static (again, unlike the frontier), yet magically productive. Following pastoral convention, Irving describes the land in eminently hospitable feminine imagery, indicating in the first sentence that "in the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson" lies the community named Tarry Town by the women of the region (p. 272). Two miles away is the smaller village of Sleepy Hollow, likened to a "mimic harbour, undisturbed by the passing current," where one might find even yet "the same families vegetating in its sheltered bosom" (p. 274). In the description of the Van Tassel farm these gender-specific topological features recur: it "was situated on the banks of the Hudson, in one of those green, sheltered, fertile nooks, in which the Dutch farmers are so fond of nestling" (p. 279). Each specific location is a repetition of the others; each involves the feminine principle, repose, and water, so the "small brook" that glides through Sleepy Hollow "with just murmur enough to lull one to repose" is made to well up on Van Tassel's quiet Xanadu as "a spring of the softest water" that bubbled along "among alders and dwarf willows" (p. 279).
Whatever significance may finally attach to the dandy-and-squatter form of Ichabod's conflict with Brom Bones, the moral satire surely depends on seeing Sleepy Hollow less as the frontier setting of a memorable joke than as Irving's romantic notion of any man's true home. The tone of the story is at all points favorable to the settled and home-loving Dutch; it supports their sense of tradition, their security, their relation to the land, their repose and plenitude, and, most of all, their imagination, while the interloper, Ichabod, is point for point the destructive antithesis of all these traits.7
Since the issue of the imagination has appeared to some to support a sympathetic view of Ichabod Crane, and since Irving himself indicates that Sleepy Hollow is an active abettor of the imagination, it is important to see how Irving discriminates between Ichabod and the Dutch on this point. "It is remarkable," writes Irving, "that the visionary propensity I have mentioned is not confined to the native inhabitants of the valley, but is unconsciously imbibed by every one who resides there for a time. However wide awake they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative—to dream dreams, and see apparitions" (p. 273). As an Arcadian environment, Sleepy Hollow is necessarily a source of inspiration, and yet those who dream under its influence do so according to their personalities and capacities. The genuinely inspired acts of imagination all belong to the Dutch: to Brom Bones most conspicuously, the Pan by whom Ichabod is panicked, and a poet not of words, certainly, but of virtuous action; to Yost Van Houten, the inspired architect of the schoolhouse locking system, modelled on "the mystery of the eelpot," whereby, "though a thief might get in with perfect ease, he would find some embarrassment in getting out" (p. 274); or to Baltus Van Tassel, who monitors Ichabod's quixotic courtship of his daughter by recognizing and observing its appropriate symbol, that is, by "watching the achievements of a little wooden warrior, who, armed with a sword in each hand, was most valiantly fighting the wind on the pinnacle of the barn" (p. 282). Ichabod's imagination is a truly sorry thing in contrast, compounded, at worst, of Cotton Mather and simple credulity, and never, at its best, escaping the small shrewdness of his New England heritage. In his vision of the Van Tassel farm all its teeming life lies dead, served up as food for him alone, so that Irving's early description of Ichabod as "the genius of famine" (p. 274) comes finally to have a profounder point of reference than his gaunt and awkward appearance. He can easily imagine sacrificing all life to his own; the business of the story, however, is to force him to imagine his own death and ultimately to make that imagination feed and sustain the life of the community.
Nowhere is the difference between the Dutch imagination and Ichabod's more evident than in their respective superstitions. As the allusions to Cotton Mather suggest, Ichabod's superstitiousness is the vestige of a decadent Puritanism from which God and glory have departed equally. The schoolmaster is thus left with a system of infernal providences in which all of nature is supposed to have the power—even the purpose—of doing harm to Ichabod Crane.8 Never wholly secure, he is especially skittish after dark when "every sound of nature . . . fluttered his excited imagination: the moan of the whip-poor-will from the hill side; the boding cry of the tree toad, that harbinger of storm; . . . or the sudden rustling in the thicket, of birds frightened from their roost" (p. 277). Ichabod is so radically disjoined from his environment that he and the natural world are fated enemies: nature frightens him, but, by the same token, he can and does frighten it. Put another way, the presence of death that he senses in nature, nature senses in him.
This development of the protagonist's character reveals an important aspect of Irving's method, because the frightening of the birds recalls the introduction of Ichabod as in appearance like a "scarecrow eloped from a cornfield" (p. 274) in a way that decisively alters its original comic application, just as the imagined devastation of the farm's teeming life recalled and deepened the earlier reference to Ichabod as the "genius of famine." The thematic aptness of Irving's humor becomes increasingly apparent as this kind of transformation is several times repeated: the comic details are simply funny when first seen undeveloped or apart from a larger social or moral context (which is to say, from Ichabod's perspective); but when Irving then replants them in a more coherent universe (when he provides them, in effect, some of the morally settled quality of the Dutch perspective), the regional comedy darkens into moral satire.
It is, of course, the basic coherence of the Dutch imagination that prevents their very pronounced superstitiousness from having anything monstrous about it. They are on the best of terms with their ghosts, who are, like themselves and unlike Ichabod, intimately attached to life and the local scene. The Dutch women tell of "haunted fields and haunted brooks, and haunted bridges and haunted houses" (p. 277); the men tell of "funeral trains, and mourning cries and wailings heard and seen about the great tree where the unfortunate Major Andre was taken" or "of the woman in white, that haunted the dark glen at Raven Rock" (p. 289). These manifestations are, in the way of folk mythology, so localized, so much a part of familiar nature, that to apply the term "supernatural" to them seems almost inappropriate. They tell of unexpected life in the landscape, not of death or threats of death. The Dutch, moreover, tell these tales artistically, neither as first-hand accounts nor as "extracts" from books, as Ichabod does, but as still living legends. The sole exception is Brom Bones' account of his match with the Headless Horseman, a tale combining a youthful irreverence for the mythology of his elders with a point that not even the supernatural is to be dreaded. Generically, the Dutch tales are poles apart from Ichabod's monstrous and unfriendly indication to his female hosts of the "fact that the world did absolutely turn round, and that they were half the time topsy-turvy!" (p. 277).
These unsettled and unsettling traits in Ichabod are manifestly related to, and yet go deeper than, the New England character that on one level is the object of Irving's regional satire. Not content merely to display and ridicule the social behavior of the type, Irving probes the character of his Yankee to give the most basic kinds of moral explanations for the comic inappropriateness of his outward actions. The nature of these explanations is determined by the structure of the story, which involves the penetration of an outsider into the very heart of an earthly paradise. Seen in this light, Ichabod's unsettling traits seem less significantly those of an awkwardly displaced regional character or even of a sinful individual than, at last, those of sin itself. Indeed, the characterizing details of the story seem clustered around the seven deadly sins, even though it is not certain that Irving consciously meant it to appear so.
Ichabod's envy is indicated in one way by his "large green glassy eyes" which are mentioned first as a part of a ludicrous physical description and then again with the moral implications more fully in evidence (pp. 274, 279-80). His envy is indicated in another way, of course, in his whole attitude toward the domain of Van Tassel:
As the enraptured Ichabod . . . rolled his great green eyes over the fat meadow lands, the rich fields of wheat, of rye, of buckwheat, and Indian corn, and the orchard burthened with ruddy fruit, which surrounded the warm tenement of Van Tassel, his heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea, how they might be readily turned into cash, and the money invested in immense tracts of wild land, and shingle palaces in the wilderness.
This is not envy in the simple sense of wanting to own what others own but accords rather with the classic conception of the sin of envy in which, perversely, one seeks the annihilation of the object. The type of this sin is Satan's envy of the kingdom of God: he cannot hope to share in it, and so commits himself to its destruction. While it might be argued that merely selling the land would not destroy it, surely the point about these Dutch farms is that they never have been sold, never have had a "market value" or been held by strangers, and that what they represent would be forever lost if any of these conditions were to come to pass. Insidious as this threat is, however, it does not involve a passion that the Dutch, as the owners of the land, can directly be tainted with. In this sense, it is rather more disturbing that Ichabod has introduced envy in an altogether different way to people who seem never to have felt it before. While the schoolmaster escorts the village damsels about the churchyard on Sundays, "the more bashful country bumpkins hung sheepishly back, envying his superior elegance and address" (p. 276).
Ichabod's avarice is the concomitant of his envy and has already been suggested in the way his imagination is so casually dominated by the cash nexus. His plans for the Van Tassel-Crane estate show that he is interested not in the good life but in the immoderately wealthy life, which, for Ichabod, is the fiscal equivalent of never settling down. His "immense tracts" of frontier are for speculation, not for living on or farming, and reflect a characteristic desire that his wealth should come without labor.
Sloth ought to be a sin difficult to attain in this paradise, and yet Ichabod aspires even here. Aside from being a "flogger of urchins," he earns his bread not so much by the sweat of his brow as by assisting the Dutch "occasionally in the lighter labours of their farms" (p. 275). These labors comprise the sort of tasks then commonly assigned to women and children and include taking the horses to water and making hay. Even these he manages largely to avoid by becoming "wonderfully gentle and ingratiating" with the women: "He found favour in the eyes of the mothers, by petting the children, particularly the youngest, and like the lion bold, which whilome so magnanimously the lamb did hold, he would sit with a child on one knee, and rock a cradle with his foot, for whole hours together" (pp. 275-76). Ichabod's almost systematic avoidance of productive labor is depicted mainly through his alliance with female society and through his adoption of the least consequential of the activities traditionally associated with women. Thus, for example, he is a major source of gossip in the community and would also "pass long winter evenings with the old Dutch wives, as they sat spinning by the fire, . . . and listen to their marvellous tales" (p. 277). However, his masculinity is most directly challenged by his being a "man of letters" in a community of farmers, where to work is perforce to have something to show for one's work. The women can appreciate his erudition, "for he had read several books quite through," though he was "thought, by all who understood nothing of the labour of headwork, to have a wonderfully easy life of it" (p. 276). It is a moral comment on Ichabod that a variety of his traits, including his problematic relationship to the world of work, divides a fundamentally coherent Dutch community along gender lines.
The subject of sloth appears to have been a complex and perhaps even a sensitive one for Irving, who, in the persona of Geoffrey Crayon, maintained a vested interest in the innocence of repose. The epigraph from Thomson's Castle of Indolence, a poem that successively celebrates the pleasures and indicts the decadence of indolence, contributes to the complexity of the issue by seeming to oblige the author to discriminate carefully in moral terms between the sloth he is condemning and the repose to which he is temperamentally and artistically committed. The distinction turns out, once again, to favor the Dutch, who never, throughout the course of the story, are shown at work. In the Van Tassel barn, "the flail was busily resounding . . . from morning to night," but workers neither work nor appear. The repose of the Dutch is simply prelapsarian, which means that they have, as the schoolteacher does not, something vital on which they can repose. Ichabod, who is shown working, who puts in his time at the schoolroom and performs his odd job, is nevertheless constantly preoccupied with schemes for rescinding the penalty of original sin in his own personal case, which is a large part of what Yankee ingenuity comes to in Irving's satire.
This fundamental difference parallels and at the same time further explains the qualitative distinction between the Dutch imagination and Ichabod's, the one effortless, natural, and supremely located, the other artificial, self-indulgent, and frenetic. From another point of view, Irving clearly had professional reasons for raising this issue, for if he was less personally concerned than Nathaniel Hawthorne with the public's perception of the value of the writer's vocation, he nevertheless knew that literature and scholarship in America were not always held in high esteem, that, indeed, they were often associated with idleness and self-indulgence.9 By creating in Ichabod a slothful character at whom such charges might be levelled with perfect justice, he shows that they are most appropriately brought against the poseur, the man of self-deluding pretensions to literature, and not against the true writer (or artist) at all. And by creating in his Dutch characters an imagination rooted in innocent, even blessed repose, he affirms the value and explains the virtue of his own art.
If, in Eden, sloth is difficult, gluttony is simply ungrateful. It suggests a certain doubt as to the extent and continuance of divine providence, and, as Irving shows, leads to envy:
[Ichabod] was a kind and thankful creature, whose heart dilated in proportion as his skin was filled with good cheer, and whose spirits rose with eating, as some men's do with drink. He could not help, too, rolling his large eyes round him as he ate, and chuckling with the possibility that he might one day be lord of all this scene of almost unimaginable splendour.
Despite the narrator's gentlemanly imputation of thankfulness, the apparent fact is that Ichabod, having found heaven, aspires to be, not thank, its "lord." The appetite that prompts him is the sinister elaboration of the early, comic observation that "he was a huge feeder . . . though lank" (p. 275), while the transition from the physical fact to its spiritual implication has been prepared by Irving's intermediate use of the imagery of gluttony to describe Ichabod's mental processes. He is an intellectual gourmand: "His appetite for the marvellous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary. . . . No tale was too gross or monstrous for his capacious swallow" (p. 277). After he is introduced to Katrina, it is, as the narrator says, "not to be wondered at, that so tempting a morsel soon found favour in his eyes" (p. 278), or that "his devouring mind's eye" could transform at a glance all the farm's life to food (p. 279). If Ichabod's imagination is thwarted and traversed by his sloth, it operates ineluctably in service to his belly. Even as he goes for his last interview with Katrina, he is "feeding his mind with many sweet thoughts and sugared suppositions" (p. 286).
There are three moments in the story that shed light on Ichabod's tendency to the sin of anger, and they appear to form, as in the case of his gluttony, a pattern of deepening seriousness. His willingness to flog his students, and particularly the stronger, more threatening children, is consistent with his personal insecurity and impatience with "inferiors." Beneath the artfully dispassionate surface of his behavior ("this he called 'doing his duty by their parents'" [p. 275]), the anger is, though visible, well submerged and controlled, so much so that Irving is content merely to hint at it and at the same time to warn his readers against concluding too quickly that Ichabod is "one of those cruel potentates of the school, who joy in the smart of their subjects" (p. 275). That Ichabod takes no "joy" in it is sufficiently easy to believe. The second moment occurs at the Van Tassel farm where Ichabod, flush with food, contemplates the possibility of being "lord of all this scene." Here the surface parts to reveal how he contends emotionally with the prospect of success: "Then, he thought, how soon he'd turn his back upon the old school house, snap his fingers in the face of Hans Van Ripper, and every other niggardly patron, and kick any itinerant pedagogue out of doors that should dare to call him comrade!" (p. 287). With perfect ironic aptness, his idea of success involves becoming the niggardly parton he despises, but the more important point is that his greatest wrath is reserved for his own alter ego. This mounting sense of anger when he ought to be most satisfied and placid is concisely indicated in the succession of verbs, which points ultimately to the self-hatred at the heart of the sin of anger. In the third and final moment, Ichabod's social controls, along with his great expectations, collapse at the end of the party in his private interview with Katrina. Here the surface parts in a different way: "Without looking to the right or left to notice the scene of rural wealth, on which he had so often gloated, he went straight to the stable, and with several hearty cuffs and kicks, roused his steed most uncourteously from the comfortable quarters in which he was soundly sleeping, dreaming of mountains of corn and oats, and whole valleys of timothy and clover" (p. 291). The horse, sharing Ichabod's physical traits and innermost dreams, is another alter ego, though now the kicking has become actual.
In the sentence describing this outburst of passion, much of the humor centers on the word "uncourteously," which signals the whole issue of the ill-starred lover's chivalric self-image. The narrator's sarcastic allusion is to the ruins of what had been, from the start, the preposterous vehicle of Ichabod's conscious pride: his assumption that he was a bit too good for a community of bumpkins. In point of pride, he is the opposite of Baltus Van Tassel, who is "satisfied with his wealth, but not proud of it" (p. 279). Unlike the man he seeks to supplant, he is eager to misapply the social leverage of his prospective good fortune by—classconsciously—kicking itinerant pedagogues out of doors.10 But in perhaps the most telling revelation of all, Ichabod's pride appears at odds not with individuals but with sacred and communal values: "It was a matter of no little vanity to him to take his station in front of the church gallery, with a band of chosen singers; where, in his own mind, he completely carried away the palm from the parson" (p. 276). Appropriately, the profane Ichabod, the supercilious critic of the churchyard epitaphs, is avowedly the parson's self-anointed antagonist.
The treatment of lechery in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is understandably circumspect, and yet it is very close to the effective center of the satire. The fact that Ichabod is a portrait of perverse and misdirected sexuality is arguably the author's final comment on his representative Yankee. Here Irving supplies two general contexts for Ichabod's behavior: one is the fertile feminine land that the schoolmaster threateningly lusts after, and the other is the prevailing sexuality of the Dutch, which is, for the most part, no sexuality at all. These are "general contexts" mainly in the sense that while they are rather inertly present all the while, they take on a heightened significance in conjunction with more particular details. For example, the first of these contexts is quickened when, on several occasions, Irving intimates that nothing is easier for Ichabod than to divert his sexual appetite into an appetite for food. After school he would sometimes follow students home "who happened to have pretty sisters, or good housewives for mothers, noted for the comforts of the cupboard" (p. 275). The change in the direction of this sentence, as the rest of the story goes to show, suggests a transformation rather than a competition of motives. By constantly pairing women and food in this metonymic way as objects of Ichabod's attention, Irving seems to imply that the gluttony is merely displaced lechery, and not, because food seems always to take precedence, that he is without lust.11
Irving's favorite phallic symbols—on which so much of his early bawdy humor centers—are guns, swords, and noses. In "Rip Van Winkle" there is the "clean well oiled fowling piece" that in twenty years of disuse became rusty and disfunctional (p. 35); there is, too, among the men of Hendrick Hudson's crew playing at the masculine game of nine-pins, one whose face "seemed to consist entirely of nose, . . . surmounted by a white sugarloaf hat, set off with a little red cock's tail." This individual is singled out by the narrator from a group who carried "long knives in their belts" and of whom "most . . . had enormous breeches." The commander of this crew is further distinguished by having a "broad belt and hanger" (p. 34).12 In "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" the "long snipe nose . . . that . . . looked like a weathercock" belongs to Ichabod (p. 274), and Irving is even prepared to suggest, more directly than he ordinarily does, that this nose is a kind of reproductive organ: "There are peculiar quavers still to be heard in that church, and which may even be heard half a mile off, quite to the opposite side of the mill pond, of a still Sunday morning, which are said to be legitimately descended from the nose of Ichabod Crane" (p. 276). The final image in the story—that of a loitering ploughboy hearing these notes "among the tranquil solitudes of Sleepy Hollow" (p. 296)—seems in turn to allude to one of the very first images, that of the narrator breaking "the sabbath stillness around" by the startling "roar of [his] own gun" (p. 272), so that the story is framed by mutually defining instances of intrusion in which the virgin stillness of this enchanted feminine ground is symbolically violated by a foreign sexuality.
Another set of three images seems to work in much the same way, though it sheds a rather different light on the theme of Ichabod's lubricity. The transformation of the schoolhouse by the Dutch into an elaborate eelpot implicitly but quite directly casts Ichabod in the role of the eel. As though to underscore this impression, Irving shortly thereafter asserts, in one of the more surprising metaphors of the story, that Ichabod "had the dilating powers of an Anaconda" (p. 275). The effect of Irving's likening his protagonist to an eel becomes fully apparent only later, at the Van Tassels' harvest festival, where "the sons [appeared] in short square coats with rows of stupendous brass buttons, and their hair generally queued in the fashion of the times, especially if they could procure an eel skin for the purpose, it being esteemed throughout the country as a potent nourisher and strengthener of the hair" (p. 286). The schoolhouse, then, is explicitly an eel-trap constructed by a community that values eels as a source of male sexual potency. Apart from this connection, it is difficult to see why either detail should be in the story. Read, thus connected, in the general context of the prevailing Dutch sexuality—that is, in the division of the Dutch characters into menopausal and pre-pubescent groups—it becomes necessary to look upon Ichabod as, in a manner of speaking, the serpentine source of sex in paradise or as the necessarily extrinsic agent, procured by Yost Van Houten in the name of Dutch folk wisdom, to help Brom Bones over the portal of maturity. In this event, Katrina's coquettishness takes its place as a single element in a much larger ritual, one that manages to include the whole community.
The husband-to-be is near to the point of escaping the socially useless boy-culture of "Brom Bones and his gang," but so long as his "amorous toyings" continue to be "like the caresses and endearments of a bear" (p. 282) he will clearly never pass muster with the blooming Katrina. His rite of passage, as it turns out, involves more than the simple conquest of a rival. It involves him in the first socially useful act of his life, his first act as a member of the whole community. The expulsion of Ichabod simply is the defense of that whole community from moral taint and eventual destruction, while, considered in relation to the marriage that ensues—the marriage that, indeed, it makes possible—it is the rejection or expulsion of "Yankee sexuality," of the perverse and aggressive lust of one who "in form and spirit [was] like a supple jack—yielding, but tough; though he bent, he never broke; and though he bowed beneath the slightest pressure, yet, the moment it was away—jerk! he was as erect, and carried his head as high as ever" (p. 282). It is to break this, once and for all, that the "Headless Hessian" at long last carries his head high, and, in the event, so frightens the hard-riding Ichabod as nearly to bring off the latter's castration "on the high ridge of his horse's back bone" (p. 294). Irving, though, is mercifully content with the symbolic castration of a blow to the "cranium," which is, appropriately yet problematically, the real seat of Crane's lechery.13
To read "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in this way is to see its formal relation to an important subgenre of American fiction that Roy Male, in defining it, called "the Mysterious Stranger story."14 This form is
an inside narrative with an enclosed structure; its plot and characterization consist of the effect of a semi-supernatural and usually ambiguous stranger upon a crowd, a family, or an individual; its theme tends to center around faith and the contagiousness of good, or distrust and the contagiousness of evil and violence. . . . The trickster-god appears unexpectedly, usually in disguise, tests or transforms a mortal, and disappears.15
In Irving's Mysterious Stranger story all the elements are present, and yet, perhaps because he was more interested in the conflict than in its resolution and sequel, perhaps because he lacked the deeper ironic intelligence—certainly, in any event, because he made his devil too much the fool—Irving evades some central implications of the form, or, more particularly, has no use for the issue of "the contagiousness of evil and violence" that the structure of such a story raises. So far as the community is concerned, Ichabod is simply absorbed into the local mythology as the morally neutralized spectre that haunts the decaying schoolhouse. Death is absorbed into life. In a realm of such enchantment, there is no clear sign that Ichabod will have a lasting subversive effect on Sleepy Hollow or that anything serious will follow from the necessity that he himself created of expelling him by devious and forceful means. And if in the end there is no lurking worm of guilt, no paradise quite lost, yet it is to be remembered that Irving is attacking, not defending, the Puritan possibilities. Were he to insist that the expulsion of Ichabod is reflexively corrupting, it would be tantamount to giving the demonic mythology of New England precedence over the benign mythology of the Dutch. By refusing to give the devil his due, Irving in effect chooses to stress the preserving innocence which the recollection of home, safe from betrayal or violation, inveterately has in the memory.
Still, fictional forms have a force and a meaning of their own, built up of the uses to which they have previously been put by other writers. For this reason at least, Irving cannot quite escape the implication that Ichabod has forever changed Sleepy Hollow. Of the sorts of falls that such an agent as he might induce, consistent with Irving's fondness for his Dutch characters, there is the sort of pillow-soft, post-Miltonic fall of Brom, who, encountering evil without accepting it, passes from innocence to a knowledge of virtuous action and in the process gains his manhood. All that is shown of his life after marriage is that he would "look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related," and that some were led to "suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell" (p. 296), a sort of deviousness which, harmless enough in appearance, is certainly no longer an Arcadian simplicity.
Another kind of fall is suggested by the whole retrospective, memorial tone of the narration, augmented, perhaps, by a knowledge of the historic fate of these Dutch communities. The story is set in the past, but the wistfully receding perspective in which it is presented is a function mainly of the layered narration, a device which, as Irving handles it, tells its own story of declining prosperity and increasing sophistication. The first narrator is "a pleasant, shabby, gentlemanly old fellow . . . with a sadly humourous face; and one whom I [Dietrich Knickerbocker, the second narrator] strongly suspected of being poor" (p. 297). He tells his story—orally—in the same spirit in which the supernatural tales are given at the Van Tassel party, neither as "literature" nor as veritable history, claiming in the end not to "believe one half of it myself" (p. 297). Knickerbocker, who writes it all down, has literary aspirations and a sense of wider audiences, though as theHistory indicates, he is ultimately defeated by poverty. He figures at last as a deadbeat fleeing from a hotel, a wandering solitary man survived only by his papers. With the emergence of Geoffrey Crayon as the executor of this literary estate, the tradition has passed from the Dutch altogether, and the fall seems complete.
1. Robert A. Bone, "Irving's Headless Hessian: Prosperity and the Inner Life," AQ, 15 (1963), 171, and William L. Hedges, Washington Irving: An American Study (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965), p. 142.
2. In Form and Fable in American Fiction (New York: Norton, 1973), Daniel Hoffman sees Ichabod as the comic Yankee who poses a threat to the Dutch, whose "magic is the power of self-reliance, not of Satan" (p. 88). Donald Ringe, in "New York and New England: Irving's Criticism of American Society," AL, 38 (1967), 455-67, presents perhaps the harshest view of Ichabod, but his brief treatment of the tale is mainly concerned with "the serious social implications" of Ichabod as a regional type. Martin Roth, in Comedy and America: The Lost World of Washington Irving (Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1976), pp. 161-68, challenges the views of Bone and Hedges, though I believe he unduly diminishes the character of Ichabod by finding him little more than a "petty capitalist and speculator" (p. 164). Annette Kolodny, in The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1975), pp. 68-70, sees Ichabod as the sexually aggressive male antagonist to the maternal pastoral. Specifically, he "threatens to intrude conscious thought and the feeble beginnings of art and learning" (p. 68).
3. Ringe, p. 463.
4. Hoffman, p. 89.
5. Washington Irving, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., ed. Haskell Springer (Boston: Twayne, 1978), p. 274. Hereafter page references to this edition will appear in the text.
6. In Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1964), passim. Because The Sketch Book predates the intrusion of technology, Marx does not discuss this tale; however, its special relevance to the issues he raises is suggested by the epigraph to Chaper One, "Sleepy Hollow, 1844," an allusion, ready to hand, in the name of a wooded area in Concord, later a cemetery.
7. Ichabod Crane's mother was presumably another satirist: see I Samuel 4:21: "And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel."
8. There is a strong analogy here to the character and situation of Simon Legree, another superstitious Yankee, another displaced flogger of the defenseless. In Uncle Tom's Cabin, ed. Kenneth S. Lynn (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1962), p. 411, Stowe remarks that "no one is so thoroughly superstitious as the godless man. The Christian is composed by the belief of a wise, all-ruling Father, whose presence fills the void unknown with light and order; but to the man who has dethroned God, the spirit-land is, indeed, in the words of the Hebrew poet, 'a land of darkness and the shadow of death,' without any order, where the light is as darkness. Life and death to him are haunted grounds, filled with goblin forms of vague and shadowy dread."
9. A good and instructive example of this prejudice may be found in John L. Blake's Geographical, Chronological, and Historical Atlas (New York: Cooke and Co., 1826), p. 165: "There are none of those splendid establishments in America such as Oxford and Cambridge in which immense salaries maintain the professors of literature in monastic idleness. . . . The People of this country have not yet inclined to make much literary display—They have rather aimed at works of general utility."
10. Possibly Ichabod is smarting under the coincidence that the musician at the ball is yet another alter ego, "an old gray-headed negro, who had been the itinerant orchestra of the neighborhood for more than half a century" (p. 287).
11. Another instance would be Ichabod's entry at the Van Tassel party: "Fain would I pause to dwell upon the world of charms that burst upon the enraptured gaze of my hero, as he entered the state parlour of Van Tassel's mansion. Not of those of the bevy of buxom lasses, with their luxurious display of red and white: but the ample charms of a genuine Dutch country tea table, in the sumptuous time of autumn" (p. 287).
12. On this subject see William P. Dawson, "'Rip Van Winkle' as Bawdy Satire," ESQ, 27 (1981), 198-206.
13. Kolodny, in The Lay of the Land, p. 69, is surely correct in seeing a headless figure as the appropriate avatar of an anti-intellectual Sleepy Hollow, and equally correct in identifying Brom Bones' "removal and throwing away of the pumpkin-head" as a rejection of Ichabod's perverse blend of intellection and sexuality. She errs, I believe, in regarding the act as "a kind of symbolic castration" of Brom, whose marriage follows this victory, rather than of Ichabod, whose dark purposes are permanently thwarted in this moment of physical wounding.
14. "The Story of the Mysterious Stranger in American Fiction," Criticism, 3 (1961), 281-94. The examples that Male treats include Hawthorne's "Gray Champion," Melville's "Lightning-Rod Man" and The Confidence-Man, Harte's "Luck of Roaring Camp," Howells' Traveller from Altruria, Twain's Mysterious Stranger and "The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg," as well as Porter's "Noon Wine" and Warren's "Blackberry Winter."
15. Male, p. 290.
Jane D. Eberwein (essay date 1988)
SOURCE: Eberwein, Jane D. "Transatlantic Contrasts in Irving's Sketch Book." College Literature 15, no. 2 (1988): 153-68.
[In the following essay, Eberwein discusses several of the lesser known stories and essays in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.]
The popularity of its two most famous stories, "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," sustains awareness of Washington Irving's [The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. ] without stimulating much critical interest in the volume as a whole. The miscellaneous character of the volume tends to discourage speculation about unified design—as does its publication history.1 Originally offered to American readers in the form of booklets, each containing a range of sketches, and then recast as two slightly varying book-length collections in the United States and England (1819-20), each of which went through new editions before being still further modified for the Author's Revised Edition (1848), Irving's most popular book gives the impression of a traveler's salmagundi. No wonder, then, that critics tend to examine sketches separately and to give little attention to their original context beyond remarking onThe Sketch Book 's place in international copyright history or its value as an instructive example of how the short story emerged from the sketch.
Yet the book has not been entirely neglected.2 It has received its most concentrated attention from biographers interested in its revelations of Irving's state of mind at the time of its composition, an especially troubled stage of his life when his brothers' business failure forced him to explore the practical possibilities of a literary career and necessitated his trying that experiment in a foreign country. Not surprisingly, therefore, scholars have identified anxiety as the unifying thread within the sketches. Hedges notes that "there is a network of relationships among the various items in the miscellany that catches up again and again and lifts up out of the murk of the past, tentative, half-formed, anxious attitudes toward questions of national character, heritage, and culture" (130). Rubin-Dorsky says that "it is anxiety, displayed in the undertones, themes, and motifs, that forms the hidden links"; he attributes the anxiety to fiscal and professional insecurities ("Sketches" ["Washington Irving: Sketches of Anxiety"] 500). Homesickness took its toll on Irving's spirits while The Sketch Book was in progress, according to Hedges, and helps to account for "a quaint Janus-faced quality" he finds in the book (116;128). And Daigrepont argues that the author's longing for home was complicated by additional anxieties about cultural conditions in America that resulted in "the ongoing and increased alienation of the genuine artist from the mainstream of modern society" (68).
Despite its kindly tone and humorous manner, then, The Sketch Book served Irving as a way of working out his worries about his own prospects and those of his country. At times he dealt directly with those topics, as in "English Writers on America," but he approached them more characteristically by indirection. Wagenknecht's observation on the famous tales applies to the volume as a whole, which operates like an expanded version of one of its sketches by exhibiting a subtle sort of unity in its "leisurely development, . . . delighted exhibition of local color, [and] in the way the reader is kept conscious . . . of the writer's personality" (69).
"The writer's personality," or in this case the narrator's, suffuses this form; so those who wish to analyzeThe Sketch Book must come to terms with Geoffrey Crayon as Irving's representative. Not that Crayon narrates all these sketches. Both "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" are attributed to Diedrich Knickerbocker; "The Spectre Bridegroom," to a Swiss traveler in the kitchen of a Flemish inn; and the information in "Little Britain," to an inhabitant of that region. Irving finds abundant ways to distance himself from his narratives and even to undercut his story-tellers' claims to truth, so that a frustrated reader of "Rip Van Winkle" complains of bafflement when "confronted with an account which has been successively characterized as the truth, trivial, possibly false, and the effusion of a person who may well have been senile" (Kann 181-82). If one wishes to verify these stories, this layering of narrators poses problems; but if one searches instead for unifying patterns of concern, one feels Crayon's influence throughout the book. Even in those relatively few cases where he yields the narrator's role to another of Irving's personae, Crayon is the one who selects the story, frames it, and vouches to the reader for its interest.3
Crayon emerges as a genial, unthreatening soul. He is the gracious American visitor to the old world, vouching as assuredly for his country's manners as Cotton Mather had for its scholarship within his Magnalia, which is perhaps the most notable prior example of a book written to have disparate effects on either side of the Atlantic. Crayon presents himself as a pre-Thoreauvian saunterer whose holy land happens for the present to be England but has previously been the outskirts of Manhattan. A sentimental figure, cultivating benevolent feelings, he also functions as a comic persona for his author. Although hiding his judgmental qualities behind a veneer of benign tolerance, this gentleman makes intellectual observations about different ways of life and draws moral conclusions from those observations—conclusions that emerge only implicitly in his book. There is a satiric quality to his writing that readers should recall from Irving's earlier Knickerbockerish phase. An ironic sentimentalist or sentimental ironist sends deliberately mixed signals, especially if trying to disguise insecurities. And Crayon, whom Hedges has described as "the walking, prowling embodiment of Irving's own sense of the incompleteness of American character" (129), exhibits all of those anxieties about national status and personal goals that critics attribute to Irving as motivations forThe Sketch Book.
Both the irony and the anxiety manifest themselves immediately in "The Author's Account of Himself," where Crayon sets forth his incentives to travel. Although these have received little scholarly attention, they are central to the design of the book. Crayon's reasons for European touring are also Irving's reasons for developingThe Sketch Book ; the issues introduced in "The Author's Account" recur throughout the book. So will the irony recur, although less recognizably unless the reader recalls Crayon's introduction and remains alert to the coherent implications of his seemingly scattered sketches. There is an obvious focus here on transatlantic comparisons and a less obvious playfulness capable of undermining the apparent upshot of these comparisons. Although a superficial reading discerns a deferential impulse in Crayon toward everything that is English, old, and picturesque, more attentive study discovers a tendency to debunk assumptions of British superiority while advancing subtle claims for the advantages of America as a seedbed of imagination.
Aware, as he reminds us in his epigraph from Euphues, that "the traveller that stragleth from his owne country is in a short time transformed into so monstrous a shape that he is faine to alter his mansion with his manners" (8), Crayon carefully grounds his wandering propensity in an innate curiosity that has already led him to explore his home environs and "various parts" of his own country (8) before undertaking his European tour. His youthful experiences with Manhattan rambles serve, in fact, as a satiric corrective to his expectations about the old world.
Why does Crayon want to see Europe—especially England? First, he wishes to admire the scenery. Second, he wishes to trace the sources of the "storied and poetical association" that serves as the English landscape's primary appeal. Third (his most extensively but sarcastically developed incentive), he aspires to locate "the great men of the earth" (8-9). Notice that he has already accomplished all these purposes at home as a boy. He had "made many tours of discovery into foreign parts and unknown regions of [his] native city," familiarizing himself "with all its places famous in history or fable" and "conversing with [the] sages and great men" of the neighboring villages—all of which filled him with awe "to find how vast a globe I inhabited" (8). His adult grand tour, then, will only amplify the range of these earlier discoveries, all of which have been devalued in later years by the expectations of more wondrous stories and still greater men in England.
Seeking to gratify a home audience as well as a British one, Crayon carefully excepted one feature of travel from those which would be improved abroad. In point of landscape, he considered the United States superior by virtue of its rugged wilderness. "No," he reassures us, "never need an American look beyond his own country for the sublime and beautiful of natural scenery" (8-9). His own nation boasted advantages of space, but Europe offered those of time. Crayon "longed to wander over the scenes of renowned achievement—to tread as it were in the footsteps of antiquity—to loiter about the ruined castle—to meditate on the falling tower—to escape in short, from the commonplace realities of the present, and lose [himself] among the shadowy grandeurs of the past" (9). This linkage of history and imagination with landscape would seem to be England's most powerful lure. One judges fromThe Sketch Book as a whole that it was.
Yet the introductory essay posits a greater inducement in the prospect of meeting ennobled specimens of humanity abroad. The paragraph in which Crayon proclaims this hope resonates with satire—directed first at unmannerly British tourists in the United States and second at the Comte de Buffon's theory of biological degeneration in the new world that had provoked mirthful American retorts since the days of Jefferson and Franklin: "A great man of Europe, thought I, must therefore be as superior to a great man of America, as a peak of the Alps to a highland of the Hudson . . . I will visit this land of wonders, thought I, and see the gigantic race from which I am degenerated" (9). But how does the loftiest hill in England compare with the Catskills or the Rockies? This environmental theory of human grandeur has obviously been set up for debunking, and the reader stands alerted to the likelihood that the transatlantic contrasts running throughThe Sketch Book may work out differently from what Crayon claims to expect, that the advantages may be American or even that environment may prove less closely tied either to imagination or to moral grandeur than he posits initially. In any event, Crayon has introduced a pattern of national contrasts regarding landscape, imagination, and character that recur throughout the book. Exploration of these contrasts provides Irving's second significant unifying device inThe Sketch Book —the first and most important being the genial but frequently double-tongued voice of Geoffrey Crayon.
A passage from "The Angler" (placed just before "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" at the end ofThe Sketch Book ) serves as a paradigm for transatlantic contrasts of scenery. On the surface, Crayon praises England's traditions and the ways in which sports draw its people toward the beauties of nature. Yet in the very process of explaining his own country's defects for would-be disciples of Izaak Walton, he mentions the new world's natural sublimity: ". . . a mountain brook, among the highlands of the Hudson; a most unfortunate place for the execution of those piscatory tactics which had been invented along the velvet margins of quiet English rivulets. It was one of those wild streams that lavish, among our romantic solitudes, unheeded beauties, enough to fill the sketch book of a hunter of the picturesque" (264). England, Crayon reminds us, presents a tamer landscape, harmonized by centuries of cultivation. It gains its placid charm from human effort. In "Rural Life in England," he comments that "a great part of the island is rather level, and would be monotonous were it not for the charms of culture, but it is studded and gemmed, as it were, with castles and palaces, and embroidered with parks and gardens. It does not abound in grand and sublime prospects, but rather in little, home scenes of rural repose and sheltered quiet" (53-54). "Landscape gardening" underlies such beauty (51). The consequence of this human contribution is "the moral feeling" that Crayon senses in the landscape, turning his thoughts to "ideas of order, of quiet, of sober well established principles, of hoary usage and reverend custom" (54).4 Law has subdued nature, with understandable consequences for man's behavior. Crayon notes in "The Angler" that "as the English are methodical even in their recreations, and are the most scientific of sportsmen, it [angling] has been reduced among them to perfect rule and system. Indeed it is an amusement peculiarly adapted to the mild and highly cultivated scenery of England" (268). Not that every Englishman experiences this refining effect. Some have no contact with nature at all, like the cockneys who "enjoy about as much of the face of heaven, as a community of frogs at the bottom of a well" (234).
What a contrast all this provides to the American wilderness! Crayon draws the contrast most forcefully in his celebration of the Indians, whom he presents as the analogues of a sublime landscape: "Society is like a lawn, where every roughness is smoothed, every bramble eradicated, and where the eye is delighted by the smiling verdure of a velvet surface; he, however, who would study nature in its wildness and variety, must plunge into the forest, must explore the glen, must stem the torrent, and dare the precipice" (234). Forests, glens, torrents, and precipices characterize the Catskill settings of Irving's most famous stories no less than they do the New England backgrounds of his Indian sketches, and there is reason to argue that Crayon included "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" inThe Sketch Book as testimonies to the American landscape's impact on imagination.5 In these tales, he celebrates nature's bounty in providing man a spectacular haven where anything seems possible, at least for that place. Not by accident does he lavish descriptive passages throughout both tales and introduce each with an extended salute to the dream-engendering atmospheric qualities of New York's highlands. Rip's adventures seem almost plausible among "these fairy mountains" (21), as Ichabod's arise naturally in "this by place of nature," "this enchanted region" (273-74). Stories emerge from this environment, both the ghost tales with which Ichabod's neighbors amuse themselves and the Indian legends to which Irving (through Knickerbocker) recurs in the Postscript to "Rip Van Winkle." 6
To the extent that anything in English scenery can be said to evoke imaginative activity comparable to that associated with the Hudson, it would be architecture. Certainly it is human artifacts, rather than nature; that tend to set off Crayon's ruminations while abroad and to provide a context for the stories he relates. Rural settings with ancient churches and crumbling graveyards appeal to him as backgrounds, especially in sentimental narratives like "The Widow and Her Son" and "The Pride of the Village." The pathetic heroine of the latter story seems as fit a representative of her tame environment as Katrina of her changeable, bountiful one; Crayon envisages "the scene of rural quiet and village simplicity—the white cottage—the footpath along the silver brook and up the hawthorn hedge, and the little village maid loitering along it" (261). Sad tales about vulnerable, pitiful characters emerge from this landscape—not the comic or gothic narratives associated by Crayon with the sublime landscapes of America and the Odenwald.
Not even the architectural sublimity of Westminster Abbey or Windsor Castle redirects Crayon's thought. The Abbey stimulates grave reflections on mortality, not dissimilar to those engendered by rural graveyards. The grandest environment to which Crayon escorts us in England is surely Windsor Castle, "a place full of storied and poetical associations" (67). "The very external aspect of the proud old pile is enough to inspire high thought. It rears its irregular walls and massive towers, like a mural crown, round the brow of a lofty ridge, waves its royal banner in the clouds, and looks down, with a lordly air, upon the surrounding world." Yet where does Crayon guide his readers within this castle? To the tower where young James I of Scotland was imprisoned and the enclosed garden where he first spied his lover: "I have never felt more poetical devotion than when contemplating the old tower and the little garden at Windsor, and musing over the romantic loves of the Lady Jane and the Royal Poet of Scotland" (78). That "storied and poetical association" (9) among landscape, history, and literature that had drawn Crayon to England seemed to restrict him to one rather gloomy kind of story.
Traditionally, England has been as much associated with gothic fiction as anyplace else, and Crayon acknowledges this heritage in "The Boar's Head Tavern," remarking that "it is well known that the church yards and bye corners of this old metropolis are very much infested with perturbed spirits and every one must have heard of the Cock Lane Ghost, and the apparition that guards the regalia in the Tower, which has frightened so many bold sentinels out of their wits" (95). Yet he chooses not to relate any of these tales. The closest he comes to gothicism is in his dream of the talking book in "The Art of Book-Making" or the joke he tells on himself in "London Antiques," when his dread that he has fallen into a coven of sorcerers yields to the discovery that he has only rambled into the Charter House, whose shadowy denizens turn out to be "eighty broken down men, who have seen better days" before becoming objects of charity (195). Not one to take a cynical view of local traditions, Crayon presents himself as a deliberately naive auditor—always ready to be entertained: "I am . . . a ready believer in relics, legends, and local anecdotes of goblins and great men; and would advise all travellers who travel for their gratification to be the same" (210-11). If he fails to narrate thrilling English stories, therefore, the reader may well suspect that he has heard none worth relating. One of the things one notices about the holiday observances in which Crayon delights for their tendency to preserve local culture is the extent to which the old stories and games have become objects of research. Squire Bracebridge and Master Simon conscientiously maintain traditions, but there is no evidence of their store being replenished. Crayon never says so directly, but his England seems to be a place where imagination froze sometime in the past and has now been set in formula—not so lively a place as Sleepy Hollow, where a Brom Bones can spin new tales to complement familiar narratives and thereby set the stage for a yet more enthralling legend.
England's claim to story-telling greatness seems to lie in its past, unless occasional tributes to Sir Walter Scott may be taken as evidence that imagination still thrives in Great Britain.7 Visiting Westminster Abbey, Crayon observes visitors preferring memorials of authors to those of kings. These were authors who had enriched their country's landscape with literary associations—chiefly those of lyric and pastoral poetry, however, rather than fiction (to judge by Crayon's allusions). Yet when Crayon, paying homage to Shakespeare, seeks out stories about the writer himself, he elicits surprisingly few from the people to whom he talks, either at Stratford or in London. "They had nothing new to impart" (212), he complains upon visiting Shakespeare's native town, and it is only his own lively fancy that empowers the antiquarian relics of the Boar's Head Tavern to restore him to the company of Bardolph, Falstaff, and Hal. The reader's active involvement in Shakespeare's plays, then, serves better than monuments to perpetuate imagination, and the reader might as well be American as English. It is only Crayon's persistent questioning, his assumption that there must be a story somewhere in connection with supposedly storied buildings, that draws out the few British narratives he relates to his readers.
Irving relied, of course, on a heritage of European story-telling for the three folk-tales he recounted in The Sketch Book and for his manner of relating them. The chivalric language with which he satirized Ichabod Crane also derives from old-world traditions. Both "The Spectre Bridegroom" and its framing sketch, "The Inn Kitchen," represent an exuberant tradition of continental narration. Yet it was in the stories set in America that he displayed the most active life of imagination, countered by the sharpest hostility to its force.
Both Rip and Ichabod thrive in cultures saturated with story-telling and become themselves the subjects of local legend. Rip amuses himself as a young man with telling village children "long stories of ghosts, witches and Indians" (30) and enjoys gathering by the inn to hear local history related or join in discussion of newspaper reports that seem themselves remote and fabulous. By the end of his tale, he emerges as the master story-teller in a long line of Dutch fabulists—despite having only one well-worn old tale to retell. Ichabod, a conduit of Matherian superstitions from New England, delights in Sleepy Hollow's ghostly traditions before entering into that lore as a victim of Brom Bones' play upon local credulity. As Daigrepont has demonstrated in his recent rebuttal of interpretations of this story that hold Ichabod to be the imaginative victim of Bones' stolid matter-of-fact, both these characters represent varieties of imagination, and Brom's triumph actually protects Sleepy Hollow as a haven for dreaming. Aside from Rip's few skeptical neighbors, characters within Knickerbocker's stories tend to accept imaginative extravagance as both natural and plausible. They live in a magical atmosphere and deal comfortably with wonders.
Not so the auditors of these tales set in America. Irving repeatedly undercuts these tales in a variety of ways: by engendering doubts about Knickerbocker's scholarship, by introducing cynical questioners, and then by confounding those doubters. The results are the confused narrative distancing in "Rip Van Winkle" about which Kann has complained and the "Legend" narrator's flippant response to the wary old gentleman who doubts both the tale's utility and its truth: "Faith, sir, as to that matter, I don't believe one half of it myself" (297). Considerable critical attention has been paid in recent years to the ways in which these two stories work out the conflict Irving felt between imagination and practicality in the United States, demonstrating his fear that common sense, materialism, and cynicism were creating an environment inimical to literature.8 Because "Rip" and "The Legend" tend to be treated as a pair, however, rather than as parts of the largerSketch Book, it has not yet been remarked that Geoffrey Crayon himself plays a skeptical, practical role in "Philip of Pokanoket," when he measures Puritan narratives of Indian warfare against a standard of common sense (239). Rather than disconnecting story from the American landscape, however, he substitutes a preferable fiction (sentimental rather than gothic), leaving some future poet free "to people in imagination his glades and groves, like the fauns and satyrs and sylvan deities of antiquity" (233)—and of Europe. By playing whimsically with all kinds of truth-claims, from his epigraphs to his postscripts, Crayon maintains at least a minor place for fiction in a utilitarian age. Americans might have less of a literary tradition than Englishmen and less reverence for writers; but theirs were a natural environment more likely to stimulate wonder and a heritage of story-telling on which much could be built. Habits of questioning, even doubting, could themselves stimulate narrative ingenuity.
But what of Crayon's third incentive to travel: the lure (and lore) of great men? In his opening "Account," he had mockingly conceded England's preeminence on that score, having noticed how English travelers, who "were very little people in their own country" (9), lorded it over the great men of American cities—themselves apt to wither Crayon by their shade. If one searchesThe Sketch Book for living English eminences, however, one emerges disappointed by everything save the late-appended Preface with its expression of gratitude to Sir Walter Scott. What worthies does Crayon meet? The first Englishman to whom he directs our attention is the dying sailor disembarking at Liverpool, a decidedly pathetic figure. Next comes Roscoe, whose business failure evokes compassion.9 Later Crayon describes a stagecoach driver as the type of a great man in a small world. And that is what the "great men" ofThe Sketch Book do: They illustrate the smallness of their island. The old angler attains distinction only among small boys. Little Britain, the cranny of London that represents its nation in microcosm, finds itself divided between the partisans of two great men—one a superstitious apothecary and the other a smug cheesemonger, each of them heading one of two rival funeral societies that minister to the citizens' solicitude of "funeral honours and of lying comfortably in their graves" (201).
The more eminent dead rest uncomfortably enough. Crayon's visit to Westminster Abbey puts him in whatever contact he can make with England's departed heroes, only to leave him smiling "to see how they are crowded together and justled in the dust: what parsimony is observed in doling out a scanty nook; a gloomy corner; a little portion of earth, to those, whom, when alive, kingdoms could not satisfy" (136). He finds monarchs subjected to vandals—their coffins despoiled, their statues smashed. Rather than meditating on the glory of Queen Elizabeth, Crayon finds himself musing on the injured greatness of the pitiful Mary, Queen of Scots, in her adjacent grave. London, it turns out, abounds with tombs, the very multiplicity of which diminishes the dignity of any one. "The church of St. Michael, Crooked Lane," Crayon informs us, "is enriched with the tombs of many Fishmongers of renown, and as every profession has its galaxy of glory and its constellation of great men, I presume the monument of a mighty Fishmonger of the olden time, is regarded with as much reverence by succeeding generations of the craft as poets feel on contemplating the tomb of Virgil, or soldiers the monument of a Marlborough or a Turenne" (94). So much for glory! Nor does the caricature Crayon draws of John Bull himself add up to a portrait of greatness despite the abundance of amiable qualities the American visitor attributes to this comical old squire. If Crayon went to England in search of great men, he was singularly unfortunate unless one responds with awe to Squire Bracebridge.
The Enlightenment environmental determinism that Crayon spoofed in "The Author's Account of Himself" assumed a close correspondence between the natural setting in which an organism was found and its physical development. As readers of American literature remember from Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer, the theory could be extended into the human realm so that a natural environment could be observed to foster economic and social arrangements that either nurture or frustrate moral growth. The sublimity of the American landscape, then, ought to generate a kind of greatness that would differ considerably from the unheroic moral orderliness encouraged by England's picturesque rural scenery or the eccentricities likely to be promoted by its labyrinthine urban neighborhoods. To examine the way such contrasts work out withinThe Sketch Book, or fail to work out, it is necessary to consider two pairs of English and American figures and one solitary hero who represents the combined traditions of the English-speaking world.
The first pair consists of two kings: Philip of Pokanoket and James the First of Scotland. Omitted from the original American edition, Irving's portrait of Philip (along with "Traits of Indian Character" ) must have been recognized by the author as peculiarly suited to English readers, accustomed to honoring royal figures and sympathizing with their defeats.10 Describing Native Americans as "worthy of an age of poetry, and fit subjects for local story and romantic fiction" (235), Crayon attempts to elevate them by adopting the language of chivalric romance—investing tribal chiefs with regal titles and recasting accounts of colonial historians in ways that exalt these human manifestations of natural sublimity: "There is something in the character and habits of the North American savage," he claims, "taken in connexion with the scenery over which he is accustomed to range, its vast lakes, boundless forests, majestic rivers and trackless plains, that is, to my mind, wonderfully striking and sublime" (225). He presents Philip as the characteristic hero of his race—courageous, generous, loyal to his friends, devoted to his family. Even though doomed, this king radiates an aura of primitive glory. Crayon pictures him "seated among his care worn followers, brooding in silence over his blasted fortunes, and acquiring a savage sublimity from the wildness and dreariness of his lurking place" (246). Crayon cannot distance himself completely from the gothic imagination to which he reacts here in the "lurking place." There is still something menacing about Philip, something that makes his fate necessary even though unjust.
Unfortunately, Philip left no written record to communicate the nobility of his character or the sweetness of his sentiments. In this respect he stands at a disadvantage beside James, the "Royal Poet" of the contrasting sketch. But James, too, appears to us as a victim, imprisoned at Windsor Castle from the ages of eleven to nearly thirty. In captivity, he had the opportunity to cultivate graces appropriate to his title—unlike Philip; but also unlike Philip—he lacked opportunity to exercise leadership. Upon his return to Scotland, he reigned benevolently, only to be murdered by rebellious lords. It is not this active phase of his life that interests Crayon, however, but rather the episode during his imprisonment that James memorialized in the "King's Quair," the poem in which he expressed his grief in confinement and his love for Lady Jane Beaufort. James emerges as a more sentimental hero than Philip but not a greater one—simply a nobleman whose circumstances allowed for finer aesthetic development than the savage chief's. One left a memorable poem, the other a life-history out of which a romance or even epic might be spun.
The other pairing of English and American great men has already been briefly noted by Rubin-Dorsky; it includes the nameless angler and Rip Van Winkle ("Sketches" 518). Crayon's irony shows here in positing either man as great. To the extent that they have attained any celebrity, it is within small communities and among unusually accepting people. In the eyes of the world at large (certainly of those "great men" to whom Crayon bows in his opening essay) both would be condemned as failures. The angler, having sought his fortune unsuccessfully in America and then lost his leg in British naval service, subsists on his pension and enjoys the good will of his neighbors, whose sons he teaches to fish. Although likened by Crayon to "a poor sheep that is fleeced by every hedge and thicket" (268), he contents himself with the simple comforts attending his old age. In this respect, he resembles Rip at the end of his tale: an old man enjoying an audience for the little wisdom he has to impart, kindly treated by tolerant neighbors who regard him as a local institution. The greatness of these old men, to the extent that it can be said to exist, emanates from the modesty of their ambitions and—in Rip's case—the singularity of his claimed experience.
In most respects, as we well know, Rip's life has been a disaster. Critics recite a litany of his defects. Rubin-Dorsky calls him an "ineffectual, inadequate" man, an escapist, an overgrown child, and "American literature's first total failure as a husband" ("Sketches" 517-18). Another critic indicts him for "an existence that leads nowhere and accomplishes nothing" (Zlogar 56). A third, who describes Rip as "befuddled, unwitting and likeable," finds him representative of "the ego arrested at the infantile level in an Oedipal situation;" "both gerontion and child—or . . . neither, precisely" (Young 566; 568-69).
Even acknowledging his defects as a provider and citizen, however, we find it difficult to condemn Rip. Whatever else may be true of him, the man is a resilient sort, a survivor. And it is almost impossible to discern what is true of this character. "Rip Van Winkle" has proven the hardest piece inThe Sketch Book to interpret because of its multiply-distanced narrative method and its deliberate ambiguities.11 Either his story is to be accepted (within the domain of fiction)—in which case he must be commended as the survivor of a wondrous magical test who meets the challenge of reintegrating himself into ordinary social existence after two decades of virtual nonbeing, or he is a liar who has abandoned his family to escape a nagging wife and the ill effects of his own indolence and who has returned only when the combination of her death and his age frees him from responsibilities he has shirked. In the latter case, of course, Rip would have to be acknowledged as a much more ingenious man than has been suspected and a masterful story-teller as well. Whichever the case may be, the man remains a memorable and even appealing figure—much more so than the angler. He exists in the realm of the marvelous, with all his faults excused.
In the end, there is only one unqualifiedly great figure inThe Sketch Book, and that is Shakespeare. His presence pervades the English sketches, not only in "Stratford-on-Avon" and "The Boar's Head Tavern, East Cheap" but also in "Westminster Abbey" and the various pieces in which Crayon quotes or alludes to his work. When representing this hero, Crayon fuses the sentimental with the sublime. He emphasizes Shakespeare's troubles—the poaching incident said to have driven him from Stratford and the contempt later exhibited for his work by more highly-educated writers of his time, but the shadows only serve as background to the luminous achievement that requires no defense. "Who would have thought," Crayon marvels at Stratford, "that this poor varlet, thus trembling before the brief authority of a country Squire, and the sport of rustic boors, was soon to become the delight of princes; the theme of all tongues and ages; the dictator to the human mind; and was to confer immortality on his oppressor by a caricature and a lampoon!" (222).
No American parallel is suggested to Shakespeare. But he draws acclaim as a world hero rather than simply an English one, with Crayon noticing at the cottage where the Bard is said to have been born that "the walls of its squalid chambers are covered with names and inscriptions, in every language, by pilgrims of all nations, ranks and conditions, from the prince to the peasant; and present a simple, but striking instance of the spontaneous and universal homage of mankind to the great poet of nature" (210). As one of those pilgrims paying homage, Crayon demonstrates his long-established love for Shakespeare and the extent of his familiarity with his work. English poetry lives in an American's memory and thrives better there, it seems from the evidence of these sketches, than in the minds of the Bard's compatriots, who show less curiosity than their visitor and are content to relay (and contradict) a smattering of stale and suspect information.
But how does this hero of world literature fit into the pattern of Crayon's basic interests—his curiosity about landscape, story-telling, and great men? If the English environment nurtured this man, has it not proven itself better suited than others to stimulate imagination? If Shakespeare was "the poet of nature," was not that nature British? Of course: but Crayon suggests that place of origin may have mattered comparatively little in comparison with genius. Searching the Stratford area for the landscape that formed the poet, the new-world pilgrim finds a typical rural setting—the sort of quiet, orderly environment that generally seems to foster methodical, moral behavior and tradition-preserving rather than innovative activities. Especially when wandering around the Lucy estate with its magnificent parks, Crayon senses "the beauty and majesty of nature," which evoke "reverie and rapture; vague but exquisite images and ideas" such as might have stocked the mind of the future poet (218). Shakespeare's response to this stimulus marked his difference from his neighbors, however. Rather than disciplining himself to the orderliness of a harmoniously arranged existence, he defied the law.
Ultimately, Crayon discovers that Shakespeare profited from his early immersion in the rural English landscape but that he also enriched it so that its charms for the American visitor derive as much from associations with his plays as from natural beauty or time-honored traditions. To the extent that Crayon finds the Stratford area to be "poetic ground," it is because "every thing is associated with the idea of Shakespeare. Every old cottage that I saw, I fancied into some resort of his boyhood, where he had acquired his intimate knowledge of rustic life and manners, and heard those legendary tales and wild superstitions which he has woven like witchcraft into his dramas" (217). Stratford nurtured Shakespeare, but it was Shakespeare who made Stratford exceptional. Any number of villages offered equivalent advantages so that Crayon, visiting the poet's unimpressive birthplace, recognizes the cottage as "a true nestling place of genius, which seems to delight in hatching its offspring in bye corners" (210). America had such bye corners too: Sleepy Hollow, for instance.
The transatlantic contrasts running throughThe Sketch Book lead to no clear statement of any nation's superiority as a home for literature. Certainly Crayon's deference to his English hosts stops short of acknowledging long-term cultural dominance. The English landscape had nourished poets over the centuries, but American scenery surpassed it both in scope and spectacle. It stimulated imaginations in a distinctive way and had already engendered stories that would give rise to more. But neither natural environment could be credited with begetting great men. By the time one finishesThe Sketch Book, one has lost interest in most worldly assessments of stature and is content that people be good and interesting and representative of their backgrounds rather than attain remarkable standing in any of the arrogant or violent ways memorialized everywhere in Westminster Abbey but Poet's Corner. If there is a "great man" to be found in this book, it is Shakespeare, whose greatness consists in his own artistic achievement and in the reassurance he offers an anxious American writer to trust in the imagination's power to transform even the most prosaic landscape into timeless art. It was "the singular gift of the poet," Crayon concludes, "to be able thus to spread the magic of his mind over the very face of nature; to give to things and places a charm and character not their own, and to turn this 'working day world' into a perfect fairy land" (223).
1. Haskell Springer provides an extensive history of this text in his Introduction to the Twayne edition (xi-xxiv).
2. Sustained analyses of The Sketch Book as a whole may be found in Rubin-Dorsky's "Washington Irving: Sketches of Anxiety" and, of course, in Hedges' invaluable Washington Irving, chs. 5-6. Seelye discusses the connection of Sketch Book pieces with traditions of American humor.
3. Hedges notes that "There is not much of Knickerbocker in the tone of these stories" and declares "It is, in effect, Geoffrey Crayon who is telling the stories, that is, an American who is in England and who has aspirations to an English style of gentility but who nevertheless has fond recollections of settings which he frequented as a boy and a young man" (141). Rubin-Dorsky, in "The Value of Storytelling," concurs (393-94).
4. A cautionary note on this passage from Hedges' biography deserves attention here: "Such pronouncements ring slightly false. The effort to find 'ideas of order,' to smooth things over, is never quite convincing when it comes from one who as a young man lampooned the law and took positive delight in demolishing smugness and exposing the fatuous feeling for order that underlies a cliché" (12). Zlogar takes more seriously Irving's commitment to Europe's moral heritage.
5. Wagenknecht quotes an 1843 Irving statement that "When I first wrote the Legend of Rip Van Winkle, my thoughts had been for some time turned towards giving a color of romance and tradition to interesting points of our national scenery which is so generally deficient in our country" (174). Others holding the view that Irving composed his two most famous tales mainly or to a significant extent as celebrations of landscape are Daigrepont (74) and Hedges (115). Contrasting views emerge from Martin, who stresses the fairy-tale otherness of these settings (141) and Young, who interprets the Catskill landscape as "the world of the unconscious . . . the region where people and things are always appearing in unreasonable places, and everything is passing strange" (567). Shear, noting "sudden, abrupt quickenings of both past times and future times" aligns himself with those sensing a dreamscape rather than depiction of actual landscape (160).
6. Springer's Textual Commentary notes that Irving's Postscript to "Rip Van Winkle" appeared first in the 1848 Author's Revised Edition (356). References to Indian legends were lacking from earlier versions—as they still are from many current anthologies, which omit the Postscript.
7. Irving's Preface to the Revised Edition acknowledges Scott's kindness. In "A Royal Poet," he comments parenthetically that "the manner in which [Scottish history] has of late been woven with captivating fiction, has made it a universal study" (76).
8. Several critics discuss the tension Irving expressed in these tales between his aspirations to imaginative latitude and the practicality he found characteristic of American life at the start of the nineteenth century: Daigrepont; Hedges (142-43); and Martin (144).
9. According to Hedges, "Roscoe is at last a pathetic intimation of fears which Irving obviously felt for himself" (132). See also Rubin-Dorsky, ("Sketches" 514-15).
10. I am interested here only in The Sketch Book version of this essay, which had appeared in a substantially different form in the Analectic Magazine (1814). The publishing history of Irving's two Indian sketches appears in Springer's Introduction. In his Textual Commentary, he notes that these two pieces were "the most extensively revised essays in the book except for 'A Royal Poet'" (360-61). Irving seems to have encountered difficulties in handling exalted characters such as these, whom he attempted to ennoble.
11. Fullest attention to the problems of the reader encountering this text appears in Kann's essay. Shear agrees with Kann in suspecting Rip's tale as "a practical, social invention" (168). Rubin-Dorsky, while acknowledging the inevitable uncertainty of a reader completing "Rip Van Winkle," rejects the skepticism of the minority among Rip's neighbors and critics by arguing that "It is a blunder on their part not to acknowledge that doubt and belief combine to form the listening/reading experience" ("The Value" 399-400).
Daigrepont, Lloyd M. "Ichabod Crane: Inglorious Man of Letters." Early American Literature 19, 1 (1984): 68-81.
Hedges, William L. Washington Irving: An American Study, 1802-1832. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1965.
Irving, Washington. The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Ed. Haskell Springer, The Complete Works of Washington Irving. Boston: Twayne, 1978.
Kann, David J. "'Rip Van Winkle': Wheels within Wheels." American Imago 36, 2 (1979): 178-96.
Martin, Terence. "Rip, Ichabod, and the American Imagination." American Literature 31, 2 (1960), 137-49.
Rubin-Dorsky, Jeffrey. "The Value of Storytelling: 'Rip Van Winkle' and 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' in the Context of The Sketch Book." Modern Philology 82, 4 (1985): 393-406.
——. "Washington Irving: Sketches of Anxiety." American Literature 58, 4 (1986): 499-522.
Seelye, John. "Root and Branch: Washington Irving and American Humor." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 38, 4 (1984): 415-25.
Shear, Walter. "Time in 'Rip Van Winkle' and 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.'" The Midwest Quarterly 17, 2 (1976): 158-72.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Washington Irving: Moderation Displayed. New York: Oxford UP, 1962.
Young, Philip. "Fallen from Time: The Mythic Rip Van Winkle." The Kenyon Review 22, 4 (1960): 547-73.
Zlogar, Richard J. "'Accessories that Covertly Explain': Irving's Use of Dutch Genre Painting in 'Rip Van Winkle.'" American Literature 54, 1: 44-62.
Laura Plummer and Michael Nelson (essay date spring 1993)
SOURCE: Plummer, Laura, and Michael Nelson. "'Girls Can Take Care of Themselves': Gender and Storytelling in Washington Irving's 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.'" Studies in Short Fiction 30, no. 2 (spring 1993): 175-83.
[In the following essay, Plummer and Nelson explore the portrayal of gender roles in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," noting that the women of Sleepy Hollow hold considerable power in their community through their connection to folklore and storytelling.]
Discussions of Washington Irving often concern gender and the artistic imagination, but these topics are usually mutually exclusive when associated with the two most enduring stories from theSketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819-20): "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Many readings of the former focus on gender, while discussions of the latter most often explore its conception of the artist's role in American society.1"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" does indeed address this second theme, but also complicates it by making art an issue of gender. Ichabod Crane is not only a representative of bustling, practical New England who threatens imaginatively fertile rural America with his prosaic acquisitiveness; he is also an intrusive male who threatens the stability of a decidedly female place. For Irving, the issue of art is sexually charged; in Sleepy Hollow, this tension finally becomes a conflict between male and female storytelling. A close look at the stories that circulate through the Dutch community shows that Ichabod's expulsion follows directly from women's cultivation of local folklore. Female-centered Sleepy Hollow, by means of tales revolving around the emasculated, headless "dominant spirit" of the region, figuratively neuters threatening masculine interlopers like Ichabod to ensure the continuance of the old Dutch domesticity, the Dutch wives' hearths, and their old wives' tales.
Although Irving often places the feminine in a pejorative light—the "feminine" in Ichabod is his unmanly, superstitious, trembling, and gullible side—he himself seems, in this tale, begrudgingly to acquiesce to the female sphere of Sleepy Hollow. And this sphere has none of the abrasiveness so blatant in "Rip Van Winkle." We have no shrewish wife, whose death in a "fit of passion" allows for Rip's carefree dotage upon his return to the village. Rather, we are left with a sense of relief at Ichabod's removal, at this snake's relegation to the mythology of the Hollow. Thus the tale presents a stark contrast to "Rip Van Winkle." In that story, women attempt and fail to confront men openly; in Sleepy Hollow, female behavior is much more subversive, and effective.
In "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Irving's conservatism subverts itself, since conservation of the existing power structure means the continuance of a female (though certainly not feminist) hierarchy. Irving's tale is one of preservation, then, of maintenance of the feminine, and the landscape is the predominant female. Sleepy Hollow lies "in the bosom" of a cove lining the Hudson (Sketch Book 272), the valley is "embosomed in the great state of New York" (274), and the vegetating families of Sleepy Hollow are rooted in its "sheltered bosom" (274). Clearly the repose and security of the place rest in the maternal landscape—an assumption so pervasive that even our male narrator attests to it.2 For as he observes, in this tale of a Dutch Eden even the adamic act of naming falls to women. "The good house-wives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern on market days," have named the nearby "rural port" "Tarry Town" (272); the name and the power of naming thus operate as a gently sardonic means of reproaching unruly husbands and of preserving female dominance over the valley.
The narrator is not simply an idle observer, however. He comes to the Hollow to hunt:
I recollect that when a stripling, my first exploit in squirrel shooting was in a grove of tall walnut trees that shades one side of the valley. I had wandered into it at noon time, when all nature is peculiarly quiet, and was startled by the roar of my own gun, as it broke the sabbath stillness around, and was prolonged and reverberated by the angry echoes. If ever I should wish for a retreat, whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know none more promising than this little valley.
The tale thus begins with a paradigm of masculine experience in the maternal bosom of Sleepy Hollow: an acquisitive, intrusive male both perpetuates female influence over the region and also acquiesces to constraints on male behavior. As the narrator remarks, the Hollow is his choice for "retreat" and security. But although the return to Sleepy Hollow is therefore a return to the womb, unfortunately, he is no longer welcome there.3
For as he praises the soporific atmosphere of the Dutch valley, the narrator also admits it has repulsed him. It is clear that Mother Nature here produces a bower not to be disturbed by the masculine aggression of hunting, regardless of its tameness in the case of this "stripling." Hunting is not permitted, and trespassers will be startled into submission. Our guntoting narrator is surprised not only by the roar of his own gun, his own masculine explosion into the place, but also by the sense that his behavior is inappropriate. This womb-like grove is for nurturing dream, not bloodsport; to be treated with respect due the sabbath, not rent asunder by blunderbuss ejaculations. Indeed, the "angry echoes" from the landscape suggest a rebellious reaction to such flagrant poaching. Indolent as the epigraph may make the place seem,4 Sleepy Hollow does not take kindly to intruders; hence the narrator is properly awed into acquiescence.
The youthful exploit of this opening scene is echoed by the actions of Ichabod and the Headless Horseman. For like the narrator, both Ichabod and "the dominant spirit" of Sleepy Hollow—"the apparition of a figure on horseback without a head" (273)—are masculine, mercenary interlopers in this feminine place. The bony schoolmaster's desire to liquidate heiress Katrina Van Tassel's wealth, invest it "in immense tracts of wild land" (280), and take Katrina from the Hollow mirrors both the narrator's childhood intrusion and the former Hessian trooper's attempt to win Sleepy Hollow for Royalist forces "in some nameless battle during the revolutionary war" (273).5 They embody the essence of masculine imperialism: war, fortune hunting, and even squirrel hunting are all expressions of the same will to conquer. Gun, Hessian sword, or birch in hand, the narrator, the Horseman, and Ichabod all bear authority; and all three seek the spoils—political, material or sexual—of invading Sleepy Hollow.
Irving's bawdy imagery strongly suggests that all male intrusions in this female place are ultimately sexual.6 Ichabod, for example, is described in insistently phallic terms:
He had, however, a happy mixture of pliability and perseverance in his nature; he was in form and spirit like a supple jack—yielding, but tough; though he bent, he never broke; and though he bowed beneath the slightest pressure, yet, the moment it was away—jerk!—he was as erect, and carried his head as high as ever.
The pedagogue's "pliability and perseverance"—Ichabod is elsewhere accredited with possessing "the dilating powers of an Anaconda" (275)—suggest that he will not be as easily scared or awed as the narrator. It will take more than just the roar of his gun to frighten this persistent "jack."
Storytelling is also a part of male imperialism. Of the numerous tales that circulate through Sleepy Hollow, those told by men concern their own fictionalized exploits. "The sager folks" at Van Tassel's farm sit "gossiping over former times, and drawling out long stories about the war"; "just sufficient time had elapsed to enable each storyteller to dress up his tale with a little becoming fiction, and in the indistinctness of his recollection, to make himself the hero of every exploit" (288). These stories are designed to increase the teller's status in the minds of his listeners by linking him to the heroic, historic, and masculine past.
True to this male practice of self-aggrandizing storytelling, Ichabod regales his female companions with scientific "speculations upon comets and shooting stars, and with the alarming fact that the world did absolutely turn round, and that they were half the time topsy-turvy!" (277). Though fantastic in themselves, these stories are to Ichabod the height of learning and scholarly achievement. Even his tales of the supernatural show him as "a perfect master of Cotton Mather's History of New England Witchcraft" (276). Ichabod's familiarity with the subject attests to his book learning and his reliance on the great masters of American thought, not to his understanding of folklore. Boastfully displaying his knowledge of worldly matters, this "travelling gazette" brings word of the "restless country" of "incessant change" outside Sleepy Hollow (276, 274). Part of the pioneer's repertoire, carried from town to town, his stories are meant to recommend him to each new audience by proving his erudition.
While male storytelling is a part of the will to compete and conquer, storytelling for the women of Sleepy Hollow moves beyond self-image to counter that male will. The "witching power" the narrator fails to define fully is a female influence that gently molds the inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow through the folklore that emanates from that exclusively female, domestic province, the hearth (273):
Another of [Ichabod's] sources of fearful pleasure was, to pass long winter evenings with the old Dutch wives, as they sat spinning by the fire, with a row of apples roasting and sputtering along the hearth, and listen to their marvellous tales of ghosts and goblins, and haunted fields and haunted brooks, and haunted bridges and haunted houses, and particularly of the headless horseman, or galloping Hessian of the Hollow, as they sometimes called him.
Spinning, cooking, and spinning tales are simultaneous acts; the convergence of folklore and the domestic imbues everyday events with the supernatural.
The effectiveness of this domestication of the supernatural is clear from the extent to which folklore affects local inhabitants' behavior. At the tale's close, the bridge where the Horseman confronted Ichabod is no longer used, the schoolhouse is abandoned, and Ichabod's "magic books" have been burned in Hans Van Ripper's censorial flames (295); the community has accepted that the spirit world is larger than themselves, that despite their boasts and challenges, the lore of the place is still supreme and affects nearly every facet of their lives.
Perhaps the most convincing proof of the pervasiveness of female influence in Sleepy Hollow is that all the men have set themselves to challenging it. Accordingly, the narrator not only concedes the connection between women and spirits, but he also establishes women as the greatest source of fear for men:
[Ichabod] would have passed a pleasant life of it, in despite of the Devil and all his works, if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes more perplexity to mortal man, than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that was—a woman.
Although this passage is supposed to be humorous, it nonetheless reveals Irving's characteristic misogyny and the male fear of disempowerment played out again and again throughout the tale. In contrast to Rip Van Winkle, however, the Hollow men displace this fear from women to characters of folklore. It is a misunderstanding that, as in the case of Ichabod, ensures men's continued thraldom.
Given the misogynistic bent of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," it is not surprising that despite the tale's narrative complexity, Irving suppresses actual female speech; in fact, the only narratives directly or indirectly related are spoken by men. This conspicuous absence of female narration underscores the way in which males both fear and resist the feminine. Thus, the narrator is at a loss to relate what Katrina says to Ichabod in their tête-à-tête after the frolic: "What passed at this interview I will not pretend to say, for in fact I do not know" (290). The war stories told at the Van Tassel frolic, like the narrative as a whole, are told by men. And it is Sleepy Hollow men who tell ghost stories at the frolic. Tales from the female sphere must be validated by male retelling.7 That is, the story of the Headless Horseman originates in a tradition kept by women; storytelling sessions with women make Ichabod susceptible to local superstition; but men first reinforce, and then—as we shall see in the confrontation between Ichabod and Brom Bones—capitalize on the fears and superstitions engendered by women.
The ultimate irony concerning gender and storytelling, then, is that the very female stories males debunk influence their lives, often through their own telling of them. The men who continually joust fictionally with the Headless Horseman not only inflate their prowess, but also repeatedly confront in narrative the threatening world formed, unbeknownst to them, by the alliance of female and spirit. Fighting mock battles in which they defeat what they mistakenly consider their greatest adversary, men actually strengthen the female hold on the community by reinforcing and perpetuating the narratives through which women maintain order.
Indeed, Brom Bones and Ichabod provide an example of males literally enacting these stories. In his role as the Headless Horseman, by means of which he intends to humiliate his rival, Brom unwittingly serves as the means to achieve the goal of the female community: the removal of Ichabod and himself as threats to Sleepy Hollow's quietude. Posing as the Headless Horseman of legend, Brom plays upon Ichabod's superstition and credulity to eliminate his opponent. And it is Ichabod's association of legend and place, engendered in his mind by the female-controlled mythology, that proves his undoing. Riding home alone from the Van Tassel farm at "the very witching time of night," "all the stories of ghosts and goblins that he had heard in the afternoon, now came crowding upon his recollection;" "he was, moreover, approaching the very place where many of the scenes of the ghost stories had been laid" (291). Thus Brom Bones has at his disposal a carefully scripted and blocked drama with which to exploit Ichabod's credulity and superstitious fear.
The phallic language of this passage reiterates Ichabod's sexual threat and clearly indicates that the gullible pedagogue is essentially neutralized or neutered by figurative castration. Bones, masquerading as the Headless Horseman, appears as "something huge, misshapen, black and towering" "like some gigantic monster" (292), while Ichabod flees in terror from the apparition "stretch[ing] his long lank body away over his horse's head, in the eagerness of his flight" (293). Indeed, in this drama of competing masculinity, Ichabod's fear is of dismemberment. Ichabod, "unskillful rider that he was!" has trouble staying on his mount, slipping and bouncing from one side to the other "with a violence that he verily feared would cleave him asunder." Ichabod's fear is nearly realized when Brom hurls his pumpkin/head at the schoolmaster, "tumbl[ing him] headlong into the dust" (294).
Brom Bones triumphs in this phallic contest of horsemanship and sexual potency—Ichabod is never seen in Sleepy Hollow again—but ironically this ejaculatory coup de grâce effects his own emasculation. His impersonation of the Horseman prefigures his domestication: donning the garb of the dismembered spirit, and ultimately throwing away his head, Brom insures that his days as a "roaring, roystering blade" are numbered (281).8 The ultimate beneficiary of Brom's midnight prank is the Dutch community itself, the maintenance of whose dreamy repose and domestic harmony is the province of women.
The altercation between Brom and Ichabod and its inevitable outcome meet with tacit approval from the female sphere. Brom Bones, the "hero of the country round" with "more mischief than ill will in his composition" (281), appears not to share the schoolmaster's desire to take Katrina and her wealth out of the Dutch community. Since marriage is a most soporific state for the men of Sleepy Hollow, it is more than likely that Brom, who "had for some time singled out the blooming Katrina for the object of his uncouth gallantries" (282), will soon become as content and domesticated, and as plump and vegetable-like, as Katrina's father. Accordingly, there are no "angry echoes" to greet Brom's adventures; indeed, "the old dames" of the country, content with merely remarking "aye, there goes Brom Bones and his gang," indulge him in his revels and pranks (281). For Brom Bones would be a threat to Sleepy Hollow only if Ichabod should succeed in his suit, thus extending Brom's bachelorhood indefinitely (and enabling Ichabod to make off with the Van Tassel fortune).
Ichabod's expulsion from Sleepy Hollow, then, results from subtle manipulation of local folklore by women. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" thus provides a foil to the open male-female confrontation of "Rip Van Winkle" ; the story is a darker, more paranoid vision of female power. Indeed, the narrative frame shows the lengths to which men go to find plausible alternatives to the female version of Ichabod's disappearance, which relegates him to the cosmos:
The old country wives, however, who are the best judges of these matters, maintain to this day, that Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means; and it is a favourite story often told about the neighborhood round the evening fire.
The male account asserts that Ichabod
had changed his quarters to a distant part of the country; had kept school and studied law at the same time; had been admitted to the bar, turned politician, electioneered, written for the newspapers, and finally had been made a Justice of the Ten Pound Court.
This version translates the jerky young man into the self-reliant American jack-of-all-trades and self-made success.9 Yet this story is also an import; it arrives via "an old farmer, who had been down to New York on a visit several years after" (295). The ending is brought into Sleepy Hollow from New York, and by a man; it dismisses the supernatural perspective with a very plausible account of Ichabod's fear and mortification as impetus for his speedy removal, and places Ichabod in a respected occupation.
In similar fashion, Diedrich Knickerbocker attempts in the tale's postscript to lend credibility—a factual backbone—to his story, by placing it within a masculine sphere:
The preceding Tale is given, almost in the precise words in which I heard it related at a corporation meeting of the ancient city of Manhattoes, at which were present many of its sagest and most illustrious burghers.
These wise old men are intended to lend credence and authority to a story that operates on a plane beyond that of burghers and business meetings. And, as Knickerbocker relies upon the authority of "precise words," we are reminded of the narrator's having told us early in the narrative that his aim is to be "precise and authentic" (272). Something there is in these male storytellers that doesn't love a ghost.
The narrator's sardonic comment that "the old country wives . . . are the best judges of these matters" is clue enough to a rather disparaging attitude; resenting the authority of women is nothing new to Irving's fiction. Yet this remark does not alter the fact that the community listens to the women's stories. And this particular one is a favorite in Sleepy Hollow because it both warns and neutralizes threatening males. Ichabod becomes the community's most recent lesson by example, the shivering victim of his own acquisitive fantasies and proof positive of the truth of legend.
The postscript to the tale reiterates the gender conflict present in the story proper and the narrative frame. Diedrich Knickerbocker focuses on the confrontation between the narrator and a cynical listener that ends in the narrator's parodic syllogism and his ambiguous admission concerning his story that "I don't believe one half of it myself" (297). Their verbal jousting is reminiscent of Brom's and Ichabod's own rivalry. And Diedrich Knickerbocker's description of the narrator is most telling: he is "one whom I strongly suspected of being poor, he made such efforts to be entertaining" (296). This, too, allies the narrator with Ichabod and the men of the Dutch community; his performance stands as a final example of male self-aggrandizing storytelling. Indeed, the tale proper becomes the object of male desire and competition; it is the game our youthful narrator has waited the length of a "troubled life" to carry off. In turn, Diedrich Knickerbocker the antiquarian, and Geoffrey Crayon the sketch writer, extend this instance of storytelling as appropriation to fill the entire frame of the tale: its inclusion inThe Sketch Book. The presence of gender as a central conflict is further buried under layers and layers of male acquisitiveness and competition.
But in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," stories, like wealth and game, are not exportable. It is the association of lore and place, of supernatural and practical, that gives the legend of the Headless Horseman its power and efficacy in controlling males within the Dutch community; the very title of the sketch reinforces the primacy of place in storytelling. Like the Horseman himself, the tale is powerless outside a circumscribed area. The ability to tell it in New York, where its supernatural elements are so easily debunked, attests not to the power of the male storyteller who does the debunking—as the postscript would have us believe—but to the element of female storytelling in Sleepy Hollow that insures the success of the female order: its subtle, self-effacing nature. Diffused throughout the folklore and the practical, everyday world of a particular place, the source of power in the Hollow—women—is disguised, making belief in the supernatural a matter of course, not compulsion. When the tale is told outside this female-controlled landscape of the naturalized supernatural, the effectiveness of the story dissolves, leaving only a Hollow husk.
1. Leslie Fiedler and Judith Fetterley have provided the most influential readings of "Rip Van Winkle" that concentrate on gender: both see the tale as an instance of male flight from female influence and control. Lloyd M. Daigrepont summarizes and contributes to the extensive discussion of conflict in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" interpreted "in terms of the special concerns of the man of letters or the artist versus those of a practical-minded, progressive society" (68).
2. Several narratives make up "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow": antiquarian Diedrich Knickerbocker's manuscript recording the tale proper, related by an unnamed narrator to Knickerbocker and others at a meeting of burghers in New York; a postscript written by Knickerbocker explaining the setting in which the preceding tale was told, as well as its reception; and, within the unnamed narrator's story, numerous yarns told by the inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow and adjacent areas.
3. Annette Kolodny, one writer who does discuss gender in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," assesses both male escapism and the presence of a maternal landscape in "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow": "in escaping the traumas of history and progress, Rip Van Winkle and Brom Bones demonstrated the alternative commitment to a psychological adolescence through which, only, the ambience of the Mother might be maintained" (68). Our narrator shares this impulse.
4. The epigraph to the story is from James Thomson's "Castle of Indolence":
A pleasing land of drowsy head it was
Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;
And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,
Forever flushing round a summer sky.
5. As John Seelye observes, the presence of "Andre's Tree," and stories told by locals about this British major who conspired with Benedict Arnold to betray American forces, point to "still another alien intruder into the Hudson Valley" (420).
6. William P. Dawson notes that "In Irving's day, 'squirrel' was slang for harlot," and discusses the sexual suggestiveness of guns and hunting imagery in "Rip Van Winkle" (201).
7. In keeping with this dynamic, the narrator punctuates his opening enumeration of the female characteristics of Sleepy Hollow with the suggestion that the region's dreamy nature is the result of male actions: "Some say that the place was bewitched by a high German doctor during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powows there . . ." (273).
8. Having lost his head to become a harmless spirit inhabitant of the region now governed by his former enemies, and trapped geographically and temporally—since he cannot venture beyond the Hollow and must return to his grave by sunup—the Horseman is an apt symbol of emasculated male potency.
9. Daniel Hoffman discusses Irving's use of character types drawn from American folklore.
Daigrepont, Lloyd M. "Ichabod Crane: Inglorious Man of Letters." Early American Literature 19 (1984): 68-81.
Dawson, William P. "'Rip Van Winkle' as Bawdy Satire." ESQ 27 (1981): 198-206.
Fetterley, Judith. The Resisting Reader. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1978.
Fiedler, Leslie. Love and Death in the American Novel. Rev. ed. New York: Stein and Day, 1966.
Hoffman, Daniel. Form and Fable in American Fiction. New York: Oxford UP, 1961.
Irving, Washington. The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon. Ed. Haskell Springer. Boston: Twayne, 1978.
Kolodny, Annette. The Lay of the Land. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1975.
Seelye, John. "Root and Branch: Washington Irving and American Humor." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 38 (1984): 415-25.
Mary M. Burns (review date March-April 1996)
SOURCE: Burns, Mary M. Review of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving. Horn Book Magazine 72, no. 2 (March-April 1996): 193.
[In the following review, Burns offers a positive assessment of Will Moses's illustrated edition of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.]
[The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, t]he Hudson River tale of the hapless schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, his wooing of the charming Katrina Van Tassel, and his encounter with the Headless Horseman ensured a lasting place in American literature for the nineteenth-century writer Washington Irving. With great understanding and respect for his source, Will Moses, great-grandson of Grandma Moses, has illuminated the original with a fluent retelling and handsome illustrations in an eminently suitable folk-art style. By eliminating extraneous descriptions and commentary, Moses has focused on the essential characteristics of the protagonists' personalities without losing the flavor of a story handed down from generation to generation. The text is appealing in its own right, but the dynamic full-color illustrations make the book spectacular. Moses conveys humor, beauty, charm, and mystery in a broad-ranging palette that captures sunlit pastures as precisely as darkening shadows. And who would not be delighted with the double-page spread featuring Ichabod demonstrating his terpsichorean talents in the Van Tassel's parlor? Simply splendid!
Fern Kory (review date December 1999)
SOURCE: Kory, Fern. Review of Rip Van Winkle, by Washington Irving. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 53, no. 4 (December 1999): 134.
[In the following review, Burns commends the "appropriately folksy style" of Will Moses's illustrated edition of Rip Van Winkle.]
Retold and illustrated in an appropriately folksy style by the great-grandson of Grandma Moses, this text-heavy picture-book adaptation of Washington Irving's 1820 tale [Rip Van Winkle ] about a man who sleeps through the Revolutionary War offers readers a look at the natural beauty of the Hudson River Valley landscape in which the story takes place. The crude human figures and buildings depicted in the variously sized oil paintings reinforce the story's antiquity and to that extent exacerbate the reader's historical distance from this classic American tale. Modern attention spans and tastes make this a challenging readaloud, while the picture-book format may put off older readers. Some youngsters, though, may find this format more accessible and engaging than a text-only version and browsers will appreciate the natural beauty of the impressionistically detailed and richly colored fall landscape.
Donald R. Anderson (essay date 2000)
SOURCE: Anderson, Donald R. "Freedom's Lullaby: Rip Van Winkle and the Framings of Self-Deception." ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 46, no. 4 (2000): 255-77.
[In the following essay, Anderson discusses the presentation of the stories in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.—particularly "Rip Van Winkle"—and comments on Irving's use of fictional narrators who question the veracity and meaning of the stories while the tales are being told.]
The imagination is alternately a cheat and a dupe; nay more, it is the most subtle of cheats, for it cheats itself, and becomes the dupe of its own delusions.
—Washington Irving, "Mountjoy" (1817)
That Rip Van Winkle became an almost instant cultural icon for an emerging American nation at the time of his appearance in 1819 is testimony to what Washington Irving suggests was happening and would continue to happen within his nation's psyche: the creation of anchorages in the past, which, while perceptually at odds with idealized freedom, is an inevitability whose primary danger lies in our protective need to ignore the actualities, the particularizations, of freedom. Furthermore, the perceptual frames to which Irving exposes the reader—that is, the way in which the tale "Rip Van Winkle" is structured—may well warn that the degree to which one fails to realize this likelihood determines the degree to which an individual or a constitutionally free people can do nothing more than caricature freedom.
If, as Donald Pease has suggested, an infant nation needed to generate cultural "ghost[s]" to create a sense of connectedness to the pre-Revolutionary past, the most disturbing and overlooked aspect of Rip as character may be that he is asked to assume the role of a living ghost.1 The paradoxical nature of this role suggests as much about misdirections of the moment as it does about misperceptions of the past. Challenged by the need to make something substantive of institutional and personal freedom, the tale appears to say, we sleep past the deeper recognitions, and Rip himself serves as a metaphor for and validation of our need not to recognize this. The imperatives of freedom may finally be little more than a reenactment of systems presumed to have been renounced.
When Rip heads down from the mountain to become, almost immediately, one of the easeful patriarchs of the newfound nation his village embodies—conceived in liberty during his generation-long sleep—he is, like the American people, thrust into the oxymoronic necessity of being forced to choose. It is a bewildering situation for someone who has only recently awakened to how drastically—and, from certain perspectives, how suddenly—the face of life can seem to change. The cozy inn of Nicholaus Vedder has become "The Union Hotel," the great enwombing tree of the Vedder days has been replaced by a naked Liberty Pole, and the portrait of George the Third has been transmuted into one of George Washington. The securing icons of the past have yielded to a new iconography that initially bewilders and desolates the returning time traveler.
No longer does Rip Van Winkle find the safe haven of Vedder where those gathered would "sagely . . . deliberate upon public events some months after they had taken place."2 No longer is political debate mellowed by the curing properties of the past. Gone, seemingly, is deliberation carried forth as essentially a form of storytelling, where "events" could float in a kind of mythic vapor, secured by their ultimate unimportance—an unimportance that was well managed by the patriarchal cues of Vedder himself:
It is true he was rarely heard to speak, but smoked his pipe incessantly. His adherents, however (for every great man has his adherents), perfectly understood him and knew how to gather his opinions. When any thing that was read or related displeased him, he was observed to smoke his pipe vehemently and to send forth short, frequent and angry puffs; but when pleased he would inhale the smoke slowly and tranquilly and emit it in light and placid clouds, and sometimes taking the pipe from his mouth and letting the fragrant vapour curl about his nose, would gravely nod his head in token of perfect approbation.
Before Rip went up the mountain, public contentiousness could be puffed wordlessly away. The very contentions themselves were so agreeably ritualized that they were not so much contentions as familiar modulations of the atmosphere. Orchestration was all.
What Rip returns to is, on the face of it, quite different. Contention seems overt and essentially desirable, if not mandatory. Even more threatening, however—even to the extent of his physical safety—is the urgent new presumption of choosing. In a moment of feeling the world has forgotten him—as it has—he is asked almost immediately by "a lean bilious looking fellow" for which party he voted. "Another short but busy little fellow" asks "'whether he [is] Federal or Democrat.'" In his disorientation, his lack of a center for this new present, Rip resorts to the only one he knows: "'Alas, gentlemen . . . , I am a poor quiet man, a native of the place, and a loyal subject of the King—God bless him!'" (779-80). The result is disorder, of course, for those who see him as a threat to their own urgent present. Momentarily, he represents a fundamental and understandable danger to those shaping the new lineaments of republican democracy. His own attempt at certainty undermines theirs, until they are able to locate him not so much in the present as in the past.
However, once Rip is validated as a chronological rather than a political misfit, a significant transformation takes place. It is old Peter Vanderdonk, the village's most recent historian of that name, who absolves Rip by identifying him—and, therefore, contextualizing him. At the same time, Vanderdonk lends credence to Rip's "story" by mentioning the legends of Hendrick Hudson and the "vigil" kept by the crew of the Half Moon "every twenty years." Rip is put once more into the continuum of history, both actual and legendary, and as such, he becomes "safe" again—to the extent that the others can turn back "to the more important concerns of the election" (782-83). He is redrawn by the present into a pleasing, serviceable icon, becoming essentially that for which he has always seemed to have a true talent: a storyteller. Dame Van Winkle is dead, his daughter Judith takes him in and mothers him, and he becomes a plaything of the present:
Rip now resumed his old walks and habits; he soon found many of his former cronies, though all rather the worse for the wear and tear of time; and preferred making friends among the rising generation, with whom he soon grew into great favour. Having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that happy age when a man can be idle, with impunity, he took his place once more on the bench at the inn door and was reverenced as one of the patriarchs of the village and a chronicle of the old times "before the war."
As he gradually assimilates the significance of the political changes that have taken place during his two decades on the mountain, Rip also continues to rise above them, becoming a pleasingly vapory figure in his own right. As storyteller, he floats beyond the demands of consistency and, by implication, veracity: "He was observed at first to vary on some points, every time he told it, which was doubtless owing to his having so recently awaked." But such inconsistencies do not really matter, for the community itself aids in creating the "true" story: "It at last settled down precisely to the tale I have related and not a man woman or child in the neighbourhood but knew it by heart" (783-84).
Ironically, as Rip becomes a kind of cherished object for the newly democratic society, he is not a Revolutionary icon, not a hero of Seventy-Six. Nonetheless, he does become an icon—more compelling, even, than "the moss-covered ruin" William Hedges judges him to be.3 He is assimilated by this new society in the suggestive way the tale itself is about to be culturally canonized by the American people—a peculiar sort of canonizing, on some levels.4 Rip, after all, embodies few of what have come to be considered dominant American values, but rather possesses attitudes that are at odds with America's image of itself. He has an aversion to hard work; he is an apparently inadequate family man; he is, from what we are told, without those Leatherstocking virtues of courage and inventiveness; he is lacking in Yankee shrewdness; he is not a "winner."5 He is reactive rather than daring, escapist rather than task oriented. What he has is good-heartedness: something for which he can be rewarded, even cherished, once he finds and knows his place. America has nevertheless framed its hold on Rip through its collective assurance that everyone "knows" Rip's story—whether everyone knows it or not.6 It would be too much to say that Irving anticipated just such a future for the tale, but he may well have been engineering—with the aid of Geoffrey Crayon and Diedrich Knickerbocker—a structural nest to illustrate how such a tale could indeed be hatched into a national treasure.7 At moments of awakening, Irving seems to suggest, the American people might well be framing those responses that will put them back to sleep again.
Significantly, the presence of multiple storytellers is less than central to our cultural memory of "Rip Van Winkle" the tale. Few will recall the way the tale is encased, and even anthologies are sparing in depicting the intricacies of its framing. As Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky points out, readers are rarely aware that "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" are part of [The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., ] "and therefore fully resonate only when read in that context."8 It is an important but meaningful pattern of omission on the part of readers, a factor one can imagine Irving, however whimsically, anticipating in some way—that there are puzzling structures to be considered and that he, Washington Irving, has stories to tell about the telling of stories. He himself wrote shortly after the publication ofThe Sketch Book, "'I consider a story merely as a frame on which to stretch my materials.'"9 In the case of "Rip Van Winkle," however, a good deal of the "story" can, in fact, be seen in the way it is framed architecturally and thematically by false certitudes.
"Rip" is a frame-tale in several ways: some overt, some less so. However, even the overt elements generate their own stories and perplexities. The tale—ostensibly the discovery of Diedrich Knickerbocker, who got it, he says, directly from Rip—is then gathered withinThe Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, who, as concocted literary surrogate, is folded within the framing purposes of Irving himself. Thus Rip's tale, with its own problems of credibility, nestles at a fourth remove from the tale's ultimate perpetrator, Washington Irving. Irving uses Crayon to play narrative games with his reader, employing the framing elements of introduction and conclusion to lay a kind of mist over the issues of certainty and uncertainty.
It is Geoffrey Crayon who introduces "Rip Van Winkle," an intrusion he makes in none of the otherSketch Book entries, save briefly in the postscript of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." The "editor's" note is a curious dance of purposes and apparent cross-purposes. It begins by informing the reader that the tale was found among the papers of the late Knickerbocker, that compulsive collector of Dutch-American history. In the two pieces that introduceA History of New York (first published in 1809), Knickerbocker has been presented as a testy chronicler whose description anticipates many of the elements of "Rip Van Winkle." "Seth Handaside," in whose house Knickerbocker is said to have resided while working onA History, recalls him in his "Account of the Author" as one fascinated with the political processes of the new democracy:
He was a very inquisitive body, and when not in his room was continually poking about town, hearing all the news and prying into every thing that was going on; this was particularly the case about election time, when he did nothing but bustle about from poll to poll, attending all ward meetings and committee rooms; though I could never find that he took part with either side of the question. On the contrary he would come home and rail at both parties with great wrath—and plainly proved one day, to the satisfaction of my wife and three old ladies who were drinking tea with her, one of whom was a deaf as a post, that the two parties were like two rogues, each tugging at a skirt of the nation, and that in the end they would tear the very coat off of its back and expose its nakedness. Indeed he was an oracle among the neighbours, who would collect around him to hear him talk of an afternoon, as he smoaked his pipe on the bench before the door; and I really believe he would have brought over the whole neighbourhood to his own side of the question, if they could ever have found out what it was.
Diedrich Knickerbocker—if one were to treat him as an actuality—could well have used himself as a model, it would seem, for the "knowing, self important old gentleman, in a sharp cocked hat" in "Rip Van Winkle" who elbows his way through the onlookers, "putting them to the right and left with his elbows as he passe[s], and planting himself before Van Winkle, with one arm akimbo, the other resting on his cane, his keen eyes and sharp hat penetrating as it were into his very soul," to demand of poor Rip what has brought him to the election in such a condition (780).10
More significant, however, is Knickerbocker's need to know—his mania for presumed accuracy and certitude—as pedantic and splenetic as that might make him. In the "Further Account of the Author" of the 1812 edition, an unnamed editor talks of the difficulty experienced by Knickerbocker onceA History of New York was published—a seeming attack of postpartum blues. From this depression he achieved a degree of relief by working on the revised edition, we are told, "wherein he endeavored to correct and improve many passages with which he was dissatisfied and to rectify some mistakes that had crept into it; for he was particularly anxious that his work should be noted for its authenticity; which, indeed, is the very life and soul of history." Even this, however, offered only minimal satisfaction, in part because he did not tend to all of the revisions he had hoped to and partly because "even where he did make alterations, he seemed always in doubt whether they were for the better or the worse."11
Nevertheless, in his own statement to the public, Knickerbocker compares himself to the classic historians, at times to Tacitus, Sallust, Polybius, and Xenophon, among others: "Like Xenophon," he claims, "I have maintained the utmost impartiality, and the strictest adherence to truth throughout my history." He even congratulates New York City on having a historian such as himself to give it shape and meaning: "Thrice happy therefore, is this our renowned city, in having incidents worthy of swelling the theme of history; and doubly thrice happy is it in having such an historian as myself, to relate them. For after all, gentle reader, cities of themselves, and in fact empires of themselves, are nothing without an historian." Most importantly, in the opening lines of the section, he compares himself to Herodotus, in that he "treat[s] of times long past, over which the twilight of uncertainty ha[s] already thrown its shadows, and the night of forgetfulness [is] about to descend forever" (378, 379, 377). Knickerbocker is Irving's "perfect" absolutist: one so bedeviled by the challenges of uncertainty that he compulsively creates his own pseudo-certainties. With the label of "historian" to shelter him, he applies meaning and significance only to those things that can be fixed within a past he alone demarcates.
These tangles of motivation in Knickerbocker hover as a kind of challenging spirit over Geoffrey Crayon during his own introduction to "Rip Van Winkle." Crayon confronts with mixed feelings of his own the credibility of that editor—whom he now edits: "There have been various opinions as to the literary character of his work and, to tell the truth, it is not a whit better than it should be. Its chief merit is its scrupulous accuracy, which indeed was a little questioned on its first appearance, but has since been completely established; and it is now admitted into all historical collections as a book of unquestionable authority" (767). It is a peculiar passage, with its mixture of over- and understatement. To the modern ear, the phrase "it is not a whit better than it should be" seems at first to say nothing, that "the tale is not any better than it is"—begging questions as it seemingly swallows itself. Yet, it is a clear echo of the British euphemism that implies a person of a somewhat agreeably questionable character.12 Is Irving suggesting to the reader that things are not what they seem in the writings of Diedrich Knickerbocker—that his work "bawds" in some way, or that it is naughtier than a mere presentation of history ought to be? Quite clearly all of these.
That Crayon follows this phrase with a series of his own absolutes throws its implications into even sharper relief. Not only is Knickerbocker's work judged to be scrupulously accurate, and not only has history deemed his compilations to be of "unquestionable authority," but it seems that those are the only virtues history can assign to him. In the final paragraph of this editorial note, Crayon even contends that, since Knickerbocker is now dead, "it cannot do much harm to his memory to say that his time might have been much better employed in weightier labours." Crayon views his historian as a rider of hobbyhorses, making a fetish of the Dutch past and possibly doing some harm in the process:
[He] did now and then kick up the dust a little in the eyes of his neighbours, and grieve the spirit of some friends for whom he felt the truest deference and affection; yet his errors and follies are remembered "more in sorrow than in anger," and it begins to be suspected that he never intended to injure or offend. But however his memory may be appreciated by criticks, it is still held dear by many folk whose good opinion is well worth having; particularly by certain biscuit bakers, who have gone so far as to imprint his likeness on their new year cakes, and have thus given him a chance for immortality, almost equal to being stamped on a Waterloo medal, or a Queen Anne's farthing.
Thus, through Crayon's responses to Knickerbocker, Irving undercuts the truth bringer. Even as history—and Crayon—have granted Knickerbocker the absolutes of veracity and authority, his editor counters with charges of wastefulness and "error." Now that Knickerbocker is dead, and therefore both protected and vulnerable, it is apparently quite all right to defame him. Crayon is having it both ways and, simultaneously, demonstrating a kind of historical danger—the tendency to give a mottled past more importance than it deserves in the name of "authority. "13
Crayon will reinforce this preoccupation with certitude in his note at the end of the story: "The foregoing tale one would suspect had been suggested to Mr. Knickerbocker by a little German superstition about the emperor Frederick der Rothbart and the Kypphauser Mountain; the subjoined note, however, which he had appended to the tale, shews that it is an absolute fact, narrated with his usual fidelity" (784). In his own note, Knickerbocker testifies to the credibility of the story, despite the doubts of others, basing his certainty in large part on a kind of narrative relativism and subjectivity: he has heard "'many stranger stories than this,'" and he has even talked himself to Rip Van Winkle, who seemed so "'perfectly rational and consistent on every other point'" there seemed little reason to doubt the episode in the mountains. Rip has even had sworn testimony taken before a country justice "'and signed with a cross in the justice's own handwriting.'" "'The story is therefore beyond the possibility of doubt,'" declares Knickerbocker (784). The very loopiness of the certification process seems to parallel what Irving has done with the editorial convolutions: the description of Rip's signing allows the possible interpretation that the country justice has in fact signed Rip's "X" for him. As odd as that seems (the absurdist notion of someone else doing the one piece of writing left to those who cannot write), we cannot be sure it is not what Knickerbocker has meant to say. Because of syntactical ambiguity, the factual ambiguity of this simple action defies our ability to interpret accurately. The truth—if we assume there is one—is lost somewhere in text and time.14
Crayon ultimately seems to be convinced of Knickerbocker's contentions, though Irving allows both him and Knickerbocker to protest too much in the name of truth. They hold the smoky mystery of Rip's adventure between two smudged panes of glass. It is an effective device, certainly, for twitting readers and would-be editors with concerns about "fictions" that are silly in their fastidiousness—the silliness of those who would use absolute veracity as an intellectual and emotional framing apparatus. At the same time, there emerges within the tale, through its own internal framing devices, a political subtext of especial significance to a people engaged in the early days of trial by liberty. "Rip Van Winkle" could be said, in fact, to mask with its surface joviality a warning about the chimerical nature of freedom—that the adventurousness of freedom can, and mostly likely will, frame itself in ways that subvert its presumed essence.
Within the tale supposedly fashioned by Rip himself, and supposedly refashioned by Diedrich Knickerbocker, one can find additional framing elements as both attempt to withstand the contradictory pulls of freedom and certainty. Rip is, as we learn quickly, a man with an apparently practical appreciation of both tyranny and freedom—though as we first hear of his domestic life, Irving, typically, has Knickerbocker be-mist the picture. This is, after all, the Catskill region, where "[e]very change of season, every change of weather, indeed every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains": a region of "grey vapours" and blue upland tints that "melt away into the fresh green of the nearer landscape" (769). It is a region where changeability blends into changeability, and where the very lineaments of one order intermix with evocative harmony into those of another. When Rip is first introduced to us, his chronicler says, "I have observed that he was a simple good natured man; he was moreover a kind neighbour, and an obedient, henpecked husband" (770). Knickerbocker juxtaposes Rip's kindliness and henpeckedness with such cozy matter-of-factness that he is immediately compelled to draw from it a palpable cosmic lesson:
Indeed to the latter circumstance might be owing that meekness of spirit which gained him such universal popularity; for those men are most apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad, who are under the discipline of shrews at home. Their tempers doubtless are rendered pliant and malleable in the fiery furnace of domestic tribulation, and a curtain lecture is worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the virtues of patience and long suffering. A termagant wife may therefore in some respects be considered a tolerable blessing—and if so, Rip Van Winkle was thrice blessed.
Such an interplay of despotism and freedom is, clearly, an apt motif for a character who will fall asleep under a monarchy and wake up to a democracy. But it also raises questions about the illusory nature of freedom and the dangers that will accompany it. Is Rip freely irresponsible only because of his domestic tribulations, or do the tribulations come because of his need to play at freedom? Is he in fact ever truly free, or is he the end product of a process over which he has little control? Is an inability to blend structure and spirit, duty and adventure, essentially so chaotic that freedom will resort to that which it seeks to deny? Is his very escapism the stuff of a freedom so reactive that it will collapse under the weight of its own uncertainty? Is Washington Irving suggesting through Rip that, no matter how fundamentally the "face" of organization may seem to change, the "fabric" of how individuals and societies respond to the challenges of the unknown may not change all that much?
One way to cope with the uncertainties of the present, of course, is to frame it within well-established constructs from the past—constructs that are general enough and hazy enough to seem real. The adventure on the mountain is itself handled in this way. The nature of storytelling may well explain some of this effect, but the nature of storytelling seems in this case to be as much substance as form. The narrative of Rip's Catskill experience is preceded by those things a good storyteller should provide: background and atmosphere, established through the generalized images of a place and people living almost in a dreamscape. The descriptions are of those formalized events that happen day after day, and Rip himself is Irving's own "anyone" in this pre-democratic "how town." For instance, the following:
The children of the village . . . would shout with joy whenever he approached. He assisted at their sports, made their play things, taught them to fly kites and shoot marbles, and told them long stories of ghosts, witches and Indians. Whenever he went dodging about the village he was surrounded by a troop of them hanging on his skirts, clambering on his back and playing a thousand tricks on him with impunity; and not a dog would bark at him throughout the neighbourhood.
The feeling is more of ritualization than particularization, where the individual faces and the specific moment are subordinated to the sense of enactment and reenactment.
While serving the needs of narrative exposition, such a passage also keeps the events of the village muted and seemingly inconsequential to the world outside. The word would curls in and out of the paragraphs, reinforcing the habitualized patterns of Rip's life prior to the central episode on the mountain:
—"The children of the village too would shout with joy."
—"[N]ot a dog would bark at him."
—"[H]e would sit on a wet rock, with a rod as long and heavy as a Tartar's lance."
—"He would carry a fowling piece on his shoulder for hours together."
—"[H]e would never refuse to assist a neighbour even in the roughest toil."
—"[He] would rather starve on a penny than work for a pound."
—"If left to himself, he would have whistled life away in perfect contentment, but his wife kept continually dinning in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness and the ruin he was bringing on his family."
(770-71, emphasis mine)
Even the terrors of Dame Van Winkle, though growing "worse and worse" as the years go on (772), seem to have their own place in this essentially snug and well-determined locus of ritual enactment—helping the villagers to spin protectively in place. Her invasions of Vedder's inn—where the landlord "would inhale the smoke slowly and tranquilly" and "would gravely nod his head in token of perfect approbation"—create their own sense of ritualized action: "From even this strong hold the unlucky Rip was at length routed by his termagant wife who would suddenly break in upon the tranquility of the assemblage and call the members all to naught." Thus, too, one hears of Rip's forays into the woods, where "he would sometimes seat himself at the foot of a tree and share the contents of his wallet with Wolf, with whom he sympathised as a fellow sufferer in persecution." And Wolf "would wag his tail" as a token of comradeship (773, emphasis mine).
Until, that is, the pattern is finally broken "on a fine autumnal day" of hunting squirrel when, "[p]anting and fatigued," Rip throws himself, "late in the afternoon, on a green knoll, covered with mountain herbage, that crown[s] the brow of a precipice" (773-74). Does Rip then dream the entire encounter with the strange revelers? The explanation is, of course, left for Rip and the listener and the editor and the reader to decide for themselves—or to leave undecided.15 What is clear is that, for whatever reason on this particular day, Rip steps out of the frame and into the foreground, where he finds himself alone and, for the first time, truly vulnerable. Particularization is about to begin.
As Rip lies upon the precipice, he finds himself at a kind of perceptual divide. On the one side, for the moment, is the known: "the lordly Hudson, far, far below him, moving on its silent but majestic course, with the reflection of a purple cloud, or the sail of a lagging bark here and there sleeping on its glassy bosom, and at last losing itself in the blue highlands" (774). The view is a tranquil, familiar one. Its "here-and-there-ness"—accentuated by the word or (rather than and)—is still vapory and unchallenging. Not until Rip confronts details of the opposite direction does the tone begin to change—and the heart of his adventure awaken: "On the other side he looked down into a deep mountain glen, wild, lonely and shagged, the bottom filled with fragments from the impending cliffs and scarcely lighted by the reflected rays of the setting sun." The images are perceived as a chaotic contrast to the imperial calm of the Hudson. Not surprisingly, Rip thinks of how the dwindling of the day will mean "encountering the terrors" of Dame Van Winkle when he arrives home late (774). But he is, of course, spared that encounter by the one that is about to take place—the one that draws him into an experience so particularized that it essentially shatters him with what it reveals.
What Rip encounters is a quaintness that under less challenging circumstances could seem cozy enough. Here, though, it is puzzling and forbidding. While Colin Pearce would argue that "the ghostly crew does not represent discontent at all, but rather the weight and dignity of the past," these images from Rip's colonial Dutch heritage provide no comfort to one whose vision—"real" or imagined—becomes too acute.16 As he confronts the future for what it is—an unknown and unsettled country—he is also offered a view of the unknown territory of the past that is equally unsettling, if not more so. The first "stranger" he sees is "a short, square built old fellow, with thick bushy hair and a grizzled beard." "His dress," we are told, "is of the antique Dutch fashion, a cloth jerkin strapped round the waist, several pair of breeches, the outer one of ample volume decorated with rows of buttons down the side and bunches at the knees" (774). Nowhere else in the story is there such detailing. It is as if Rip's double-directional glimpse into the unknown has, to borrow from Dr. Johnson, concentrated his mind wonderfully. Not surprisingly, his attention is also drawn to the keg carried by the stranger—surely an inviting sign under most circumstances. But the usually gregarious Rip Van Winkle is at a loss for words, and the two proceed in silence: he "marvel[s] greatly what could be the object of carrying a keg of liquor up this wild mountain, yet there [is] something strange and incomprehensible about the unknown, that inspire[s] awe and check[s] familiarity" (775).
The succeeding scene in the "amphitheatre" amplifies feelings approaching nostalgic incomprehensibility into almost Boschian dimensions—even as Rip tries to hold them within the framework of knowability that one's culture, one's heritage, might be thought to have at its center.17 As he views the "odd looking" figures playing ninepins, he sees them as both "quaint" and "outlandish," even in their mode of dress:
[S]ome wore short doublets, others jerkins with long knives in their belts and most of them had enormous breeches of similar style with that of the guide's. Their visages too were peculiar. One had a large head, broad face and small piggish eyes. The face of another seemed to consist entirely of nose, and was surmounted by a white sugarloaf hat, set off with a little red cock's tail. They all had beards of various shapes and colours. There was one who seemed to be the Commander. He was a stout old gentleman, with a weather-beaten countenance. He wore a laced doublet, broad belt and hanger, high crowned hat and feather, red stockings and high heel'd shoes with roses in them.
And then, in the face of this, the befuddled onlooker does his own bit of framing: "The whole group reminded Rip of the figures in an old Flemish painting, in the parlour of Dominie Van Schaick the village parson, and which had been brought over from Holland at the time of the settlement" (775).18
At this significant moment, Rip's mind has done several things. It has linked up the unknown with the known—with a specific object in a specific house owned by a specific person. It has also traveled even farther into the past, to try making sense of figures who, after all, only go back to the time of Hendrik Hudson—or so we will hear at the conclusion of the tale. He attempts to set them within a precolonial context that may or may not fully explain what he is seeing but that at least puts a border around the experience.
However, this attempt at stabilization does little to define the paradoxes with which Rip is confronted. If these are figures alive in a kind of resurrected past, if they are legend come to life for its twenty-year renewal, if they are (as Pearce contends) "the ancestral gods of the village,"19 they are essentially spiritless: "What seemed particularly odd to Rip was, that though these folks were evidently amusing themselves, yet they maintained the gravest faces, the most mysterious silence, and were, withal, the most melancholy party of pleasure he had ever witnessed." Their zombielike detachment is so at odds with the shadowy outlines of what might look like merriment that Rip's sense of desolation is intensified. As he and his companion approach the group, "they suddenly desis[t] from their play and star[e] at him with such fixed statue like gaze, and such strange uncouth, lack lustre countenances, that his heart turn[s] within him, and his knees sm[i]te together." Rip's "awe and apprehension" are finally lessened only by his obediently functioning as serving man to the players; and, being "naturally a thirsty soul," he samples the Dutch gin himself—before falling into his two-decade swoon (776).
The dynamic of Rip's experience would suggest that his confrontation with the "unknown" aspects of an uncharted future presents a double danger, that his glimpse into the craggy outlines of wilderness and freedom has simultaneously stripped the past of its ability to comfort and instruct. Rip's grasping at the past—in an attempt to stabilize himself within the boundaries his cultural consciousness provides—has shown that the past too is full of terrifying unknowns. His Dutch heritage contains its own uncertainties, and therefore its own trickery. He has attempted to "Knickerbocker" his situation in the same way the mythical editor does in hisHistory of New York when attempts to create a purer past keep exploding in his face.20 Rip, like Knickerbocker, has found a kind of living death that numbs as it threatens to enlighten.21 When he awakens, Rip is still faced with a wilderness, but this time it is one devoid of his shadowy guides from the past. Though he insists he will confront these ancients about his missing gun and dog, he must instead negotiate the puzzles of the present without answering the mysteries of a past he assumes to be lodged within the mere night before:
With some difficulty he got down into the glen; he found the gully up which he and his companion had ascended the preceding evening, but to his astonishment a mountain stream was now foaming down it; leaping from rock to rock, and filling the glen with babbling murmurs. He, however, made shift to scramble up its sides working his toilsome way through thickets of birch, sassafras and witch hazel, and sometimes tripped up or entangled by the wild grape vines that twisted their coils and tendrils from tree to tree, and spread a kind of net work in his path.
The external description, though replete with natural remedies for one who has spent too much time asleep,22 reinforces the tangle of Rip's own mind as he tries to relocate himself in a serviceable reality, particularly as he discovers in the seemingly chaotic present his altered village stripped of the soft familiarity he has known. In fact, the feelings generated by this post-Revolutionary village parallel in many ways the feelings provoked in Rip by the strange figures in the Catskills:
There were rows of houses which he had never seen before, and those which had been his familiar haunts had disappeared. Strange names were over the doors—strange faces at the windows—every thing was strange. His mind now misgave him; he began to doubt whether both he and the world around him were not bewitched. Surely this was his native village which he had left but the day before. There stood the Kaatskill mountains—there ran the silver Hudson at a distance—there was every hill and dale precisely as it had always been—Rip was sorely perplexed—"That flagon last night," thought he, "has addled my poor head sadly!"
Misplaced in time, Rip can at first only fathom the timeless: the mountains, the river. His own past is without meaning; his very sense of self has come unstuck without it. Even seeing the "precise counterpart of himself"—his lazy and ragged son—only subtracts further from his shattered sense of self. This doubling at the same time intensifies the aura of dreamlike uncertainty. When Rip is asked his name by the Knickerbocker-like man in the cocked hat who has demanded to know how he voted, there is no ready answer: "'God knows,' exclaimed he, at his wit's end, 'I'm not my self.—I'm somebody else—that's me yonder—no—that's somebody else got into my shoes—I was myself last night; but I fell asleep on the mountain—and they've changed my gun—and every thing's changed—and I'm changed—and I can't tell what's my name, or who I am!'" (781). Rip has been transformed not merely by the passage of time but by being tossed outside of time as most would know it. Having gone to the very heart of the present, where the past has served merely to taunt and bewilder, Rip has been reduced finally to the point where he can only regain identity by becoming a useful relic. And that will happen only by his representing a "certainty" whose truth or falsity does not really matter so long as he is willing to become general enough again.
Therefore, both Rip and the tale of Rip itself are regeneralized in the final paragraphs. Stories do that; but the way in which Rip becomes "story" himself is, as suggested earlier, a continuation and paralleling of the suggestive patterns of framing running in and around the story. The Knickerbocker/Crayon/Irving narrative consortium signals this with the flat, clichéd phrase "To make a long story short" at the moment after Rip's identity has been established to the satisfaction of the community (783). Rip has not had to declare his political allegiances, has not finally had to choose. His choices are made for him. His daughter takes him home, his few surviving cronies take him back, and the village implants him in his new role as local patriarch. In much the same way as he has tried to understand those mysterious figures on the mountain in terms of a picture in the Dominie's parlor, Rip has been encapsulated as a relic of the period "before the war." He is given identity and significance by becoming a part of the present's past. He serves to frame the presumed "truth"—whether it is the "actual" truth or not. The character who has no real sense of what happened to him in the Catskills becomes the reference point for what Irving seems to suggest is an inevitable cultural need to establish certainty—even if that certainty is a contrived one.
Irving, however, does not choose to leave it at that, with Rip Van Winkle comfortably resituated in time and culture. Rather, in another seemingly odd bit of editorial organizing—in a section of the tale, again, most often excluded by those who anthologize it—Crayon shares with the reader some "travelling notes" from one of Knickerbocker's memorandum books. And the reader who chooses not to ignore this section does indeed "travel." The postscript takes the reader back beyond the new United States of America, beyond the Dutch settlers, into Native American lore and (in a sense) beyond even that, into natural history. In mentioning the Catskills as a "region full of fable," Knickerbocker writes of the Indians having considered the mountains "the abode of the spirits," ruled by an "old squaw spirit" who had much to do with the day-to-day weather:
She dwelt on the highest peak of the Catskills and had charge of the doors of day and night to open and shut them at the proper hour. She hung up the new moons in the skies and cut up the old ones into stars. In times of drought, if properly propitiated, she would spin light summer clouds out of cobwebs and morning dew, and send them off, from the crest of the mountain, flake after flake, like flakes of carded cotton to float in the air: until, dissolved by the heat of the sun, they would fall in gentle showers, causing the grass to spring, the fruits to ripen and the corn to grow an inch an hour. If displeased, however, she would brew up clouds black as ink, sitting in the midst of them like a bottle bellied spider in the midst of its web; and when these clouds broke—woe betide the valleys!
It is some of Irving's most lyrical writing, interwoven, as the tale has been, with the concepts of appeasement and reward and the sense of larger purposes.
The postscript goes on, however, to define a Manitou or counterspirit, who "took a mischievous pleasure in wreaking all kinds of evils and vexations upon the red men" (785)—by assuming the form of various animals and leading hunters on puckishly disorienting and even dangerous expeditions. The sacred spot for this spirit, we are told, is a great outcropping in the loneliest part of the Catskills known as "the Garden Rock." Again, the description is lush and evocative:
Near the foot of [the outcropping] is a small lake the haunt of the solitary bittern,23 with water snakes basking in the sun on the leaves of the pond lilies which lie on the surface. This place was held in great awe by the Indians, insomuch that the boldest hunter would not pursue his game within its precincts. Once upon a time, however, a hunter who had lost his way, penetrated to the garden rock where he beheld a number of gourds placed in the crotches of trees. One of these he seized and made off with it, but in the hurry of his retreat he let it fall among the rocks, when a great stream gushed forth which washed him away and swept him down precipices where he was dashed to pieces, and the stream made its way to the Hudson and continues to flow to the present day; being the identical stream known by the name of the Kaaters-kill.
The passage may be the most puzzling of the "editorial" framing elements. Some readers/editors of Irving have felt, in fact, that little attention should be paid to such devices. Harry Hanson, in his 1954 introduction toThe Sketch Book, complains, "His postscripts [for "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" ] are quite inexcusable, and had better be left unread."24
On the other hand, when the postscript is viewed in relationship to the tale to which it is appended, possible explanations emerge. That sacredly held things have belonged to earlier cultures in ways that seem lovely but fanciful can suggest patterns of irony for more "modern" cultures, which too will have and create the look of legend some day. Moreover, the reference to the gourds in the trees presumably alludes to one of the more communal species of native bird—the martin. As a bird well known for its ability to control populations of insects, the martin was encouraged to take up residence in Indian villages through the massing of gourds in trees, in a way that anticipates the modern martin house.25 The wayward hunter's theft of a gourd may be understandable not only as a violation of the interworkings of humanity and nature but as an affront to the benefits of community by an individual who has "lost his way" culturally as well as literally. This final piece of framing, therefore, reinforces what the tale itself has suggested: when it comes to community versus the individual, the communal mind will have its way.26
Consequently, if we accept the use of frames in "Rip Van Winkle" as more than merely "excusable," we can well see such contrivances as constituting Irving's warning to his compatriots. In the "Boar's Head Tavern" selection fromThe Sketch Book, Crayon, in pursuit of the spirit of Falstaff, writes of the human tendency to create "saints" of various sorts, and of how the sanctifiers, "in the eagerness to enlighten," are "often apt to obscure" (843). If a commitment to undergo the risks of freedom necessitates an unmisted reading of the past, then, Irving intimates, the process may be a self-defeating one. Societies are framed in by the past, by the obscuring hold of mythic history. In the sketch "Philip of Pokanoket," we read (noting strong echoes of Rip on the mountain), "Society is like a lawn, where every roughness is smoothed, every bramble eradicated, and where the eye is delighted by the smiling verdure of a velvet surface; he, however, who would study nature in its wildness and variety, must plunge into the forest, must explore the glen, must stem the torrent, and dare the precipice" (1013-14). Society generalizes, in part, by sanctifying the past. After all, in a monarchy, if the past defines rulership, one can readily postulate that this is as it should be. However, a system of organization based to a large extent upon concepts of individual liberty demands a particularization and desanctification of the past humans have found themselves to be universally incapable of.27 Irving would seem to suggest through the entirety of "Rip Van Winkle" that a republican society can readily evolve into that which it has attempted to shake off, that "free" societies might prefer sleeping past the recognitions demanded of them rather than undertake the risks involved. The fear of chaos will generate certitudes that persuade only because of their vagueness, and the concept of freedom itself will eventually be so encumbered by fictions and iconography that it becomes essentially meaningless.28
1. Donald Pease, Visionary Compacts: American Renaissance Writings in Cultural Context (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1987), 17. Pease's brief discussion of "Rip," while significant for its contextualization of the tale within the disorientation of an eerily free nation that was "insufficiently haunted" (16), nevertheless misses the irony and perceptual impact of the role Rip is forced to assume.
2. Washington Irving, History, Tales and Sketches, ed. James Tuttleton (New York: Library of America, 1983), 772. Except where noted, all citations to Irving's works are from this edition, hereafter cited parenthetically.
3. William Hedges, Washington Irving: An American Study, 1802-1832 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1965), 93. Hedges insightfully situates Irving in the midst of a post-Revolutionary "lost generation," contending, "There is much in him which suggests a sense of the world as ungraspable" (3).
4. See Walter Shear, "Cultural Fate and Social Freedom in Three American Short Stories," Studies in Short Fiction 29 (1992): 543-49. Shear suggests that "affectionate recognition" of Rip at the conclusion of the tale "builds to a communal dimension," making him "one of the first American celebrities" (547). However, Shear's belief that Rip signifies a power of the past able to bring "conditions for social happiness" to a present that can perceive the relevance of that power may be true only if one ignores the perceptual doubts cast over the entire episode by (as we shall see) the framed structure of the tale.
5. Daniel G. Hoffman, in Form and Fable in American Fiction (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1961), 95-96, attributed part of Rip's fascination to what would be particularly appealing to post-World War 2 America: his "yearning for escape from work and responsibility which is exemplified by a host of gadgets and the daydream dramas of contemporary popular culture." See also Philip Young, "Fallen from Time: The Mythic Rip Van Winkle," Kenyon Review 22 (1960): 547-73. At nearly the same time as Hoffman, Young found it surprising that European readers had not been pointing "gleefully to this figure as a symbol of America, for he presents a near-perfect image of the way a large part of the world looks at us: likeable enough, up to a point and at times, but essentially immature, self-centered, careless and above all—and perhaps dangerously—innocent" (570).
6. See Hugh J. Dawson's "Recovering 'Rip Van Winkle': A Corrective Reading," ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 40 (1994): 251-73. In attacking those who would see "Rip" as primarily an antifeminist work, Dawson carefully details how subsequent adaptations freely alter Irving's story—in particular those that give a lighter cast to the mountain episode than careful reading allows (257).
7. Joseph Jefferson, in the last significant revision of his dramatic version of the tale, finally made Rip into a figure of family healing for post-Civil War America. Dame Van Winkle does not die; rather, when Rip returns to the village she is there not only to welcome him back but also, in a sense, to embrace his disfunctionality. See The Autobiography of Joseph Jefferson (New York: Century, 1889), 225. The actor/playwright recalls the epiphanic moment when he realized the Irving tale held significant potential for staging: "Rip Van Winkle! There was to me magic in the sound of the name as I repeated it. Why, was not this the very character I wanted? An American story by an American author was surely just the theme suited to an American actor." The play, in fact, shows little recognition of the depth and complexity of its analogue, but its analogue does, as I am suggesting, show that this deeper recognition is not really to be expected.
8. Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky, Adrift in the Old World: The Psychological Pilgrimage of Washington Irving (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1988), 100.
9. Washington Irving, quoted in Harry Hanson, introduction to The Sketch Book, by Washington Irving (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1954), iii.
10. Handaside, incidentally, has described Knickerbocker as a "small brisk looking old gentleman, dressed in a rusty black coat, a pair of olive velvet breeches, and a small cocked hat" (373).
11. Washington Irving, A History of New York, ed. Edwin T. Bowden (1812; Albany: New College and Univ. Press, 1964), 38-39. I use the NCUP edition here because it incorporates the 1812 revisions to the 1809 original chosen by the Library of America for its edition. Irving's 1812 revisions included the "Further Account of the Author" from which this material is quoted.
12. See, for example, Henry Fielding's use of the phrase in Joseph Andrews ("Joseph Andrews," with "Shamela" and Related Writings, ed. Homer Goldberg [New York: W. W. Norton, 1987], 25). In a letter to his sister Pamela, Joseph describes a recent experience with Lady Booby: "Don't tell any body what I write, because I should not care to have Folks say I discover what passes in our Family: but if it had not been so great a Lady, I should have thought she had had a mind to me. Dear Pamela, don't tell any body: but she ordered me to sit down by her Bedside, when she was in naked Bed; and she held my Hand, and talked exactly as a Lady does to her Sweetheart in a Stage-Play, which I have seen in Covent-Garden, while she wanted him to be no better than he should be."
13. Rubin-Dorsky writes that The Sketch Book "touched [Irving's] American readers on a deep, subconscious level because the nation was in crisis, and because Irving himself was an acute register of the anxieties of his age"—anxieties based upon the ever-readable impermanence of things. He offers a particularly sensitive reading of the "Westminster Abbey" sketch, in which Geoffrey Crayon is confronted by this overwhelming reminder of decay and, consequently, by a sense of collective human futility. Among other things, suggests Rubin-Dorsky—and quite correctly, it would seem—editor Crayon's response to much of what he sees in England "constitutes the American's fear of the absorption of the self by society, a relinquishing of individual personality to the forces of tradition, which amounts, finally, in American terms, to nothing less than self-obliteration." Rubin-Dorsky contends, however, that despite these concerns in The Sketch Book Irving "offers no polemic nor does he issue any warning to his countrymen" (Adrift in the Old World, 66, 94, 97). But "Rip Van Winkle," it will be seen here, offers just such a warning.
14. Thus one can see the purposefulness, too, of the William Cartwright epigraph at the beginning of the tale—immediately below the phrase "A Posthumous Writing of Diedrich Knickerbocker" and, therefore, structurally attributable to Knickerbocker. As it is used here, the statement "Truth is a thing that ever I will keep / Unto thylke day in which I creep into / My sepulchre—" reads ambiguously as to whether truth will finally be revealed or entombed. While the saying is pronounced with the vehemence of a vow, it is uncertain what is being vowed. For further discussion of the passage, see two recent articles in the Chaucer Review. Peter G. Beidler, in "William Cartwright, Washington Irving, and the 'Truth': A Shadow Allusion to Chaucer's Canon's Yeoman's Tale," Chaucer Review 29 (1995): 434-39, traces the source beyond Cartwright's seventeenth-century play The Ordinary to Chaucer's tale and stresses the irony of "truthfulness" in this context. See also Charles Clay Doyle, "'He That Will Swear Will Lie': A Further Note," Chaucer Review 32 (1997): 108-10. In a corrective response to Beidler, Doyle shows (while suggesting the epigraph may well have come to Irving via Sir Walter Scott) the universality of the concept that "vowing" signals a capacity for lying.
15. See David J. Kann, "'Rip Van Winkle': Wheels within Wheels," American Imago 36 (1979): 178-96. Kann notes the uncertainties of storytelling posed by the conclusion of the homecoming section where Rip varies his narrative with each telling: "Running counter to the comforting movement from doubt to certainty is the invitation to the reader to doubt Rip after the townspeople have decided to believe him" (180). Kann cogently argues, however, that this is part of a satirical mirror Irving sets before members of the new republic who would struggle to maintain a sense of the tale's "truth" (190-91). While Kann takes an essentially Freudian path to his conclusion, his articulation of cultural infantilism resonates with my argument.
16. See Colin D. Pearce, "Changing Regimes: The Case of Rip Van Winkle," Clio 22 (1993): 117. Pearce contends that Irving, at least in "Rip Van Winkle," is indeed offering a kind of warning to Americans while grappling with a philosophy of history that stresses the importance of "a past" to any society. As such, "Rip" needs to be understood both "politically and historically" (118). In particular, Irving wishes "in a gentle way" to remind readers that "American 'exceptionalism' should not be taken too far, and that, for all their innovativeness in the history of human societies, the Americans should not forget that they are human beings and therefore need a sense of the communal past, as have all societies heretofore" (116). It is an incisive comment: Irving in "Rip" indeed seems concerned with the dangers of cultural self-glorification. But Pearce's contention that being "more anchored in the past" makes a people less vulnerable to the present is not as easy to justify (121). In fact, the plausibility of such a reading seems undercut not only by what Rip experiences in the mountains but also by the responses of his townspeople, of Diedrich Knickerbocker, and of Geoffrey Crayon.
17. Lloyd Daigrepont sees the ghostly crew as representing "a persistent grimness in the European character" at odds with the new nation's sense of itself as an idealized entity and embodied elsewhere in the tale by the aggressive assembly that accosts Rip when he comes down the mountain; see "'Rip Van Winkle' and the Gnostic Vision of History," Clio 15 (1985): 52. Irving may well be indicating, as I suggest by my reading of the conclusion of his narrative framework, that such a tendency goes beyond the European to the nature of human organization in general.
18. See John F. Lynen, "The Fiction in the Landscape," chap. 3 in The Design of the Present: Essays on Time and Form in American Literature (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1969), 153-204. Lynen compares the tale's nested pasts—including the painting—to "Chinese boxes, one within the other." The effect, he argues persuasively, is to demonstrate the relativity of historical truth, leading us ultimately to question, as Crayon does with seeming unintentionality, "what 'fact' means" (161, 162).
19. Pearce, "Changing Regimes," 117.
20. See, for example, Knickerbocker's handling of Wouter Van Twiller in A History of New York: "With a faltering hand," he writes at the beginning of Book 3, "do I withdraw the curtain of oblivion that veils the modest merit of our venerable ancestors" (121 in the NCUP edition, a passage omitted from the Library of America edition). While attempting to draw the reader to the "happier days" of New Amsterdam, he nonetheless reveals, no doubt unintentionally, the incompetence of Van Twiller at decision making. In those supposedly happier times, the public allowed itself to mistake lassitude for wisdom, as in the case of Schoonhoven v. Bleecker (126-27).
21. Crayon has himself gone through moments like this elsewhere in The Sketch Book—sometimes knowingly, sometimes unwittingly. As he goes in search of England's past, Crayon—and the reader—must negotiate those moments that speak out against overgeneralization. The peripatetic narrator himself realizes the vulnerability to disillusionment created by his "roving passion" (745), voicing it most clearly, perhaps, in the Christmas sketches. He admits in "Christmas" to the "delightful spell" cast over his imagination by older holiday customs: "They recall the pictures my fancy used to draw in the May morning of life, when as yet I only knew the world through books, and believed it to be all that poets had painted it; and they bring with them the flavour of those honest days of yore, in which, perhaps, with equal fallacy, I am apt to think the world was more homebred, social, and joyous, than at present" (911). Later, in describing his holiday experiences with the Bracebridge family in "Christmas Day," he finds himself "disappointed" that the "sleek well conditioned pastor" he had expected to meet turns out to be "a little, meagre, black looking man," reduced during his years of service to Squire Bracebridge from a boon companion of college days to a servile pedant of "plodding spirit" (940).
22. That Rip unwittingly passes through "thickets of birch, sassafras and witch hazel" seems pointedly specific on Irving's part, since all three were associated with revitalization. See Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, ed. Claire Kowalchik and William Hylton (Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1987): American Indians used birch leaves to "relieve headaches and . . . rheumatism" (44), sassafras bark as a "stimulant" (451), and witch hazel "as a general tonic" (507). Rip, of course, passes these by and is "revived" only by the new American villager's willingness and need to establish him as a cultural icon.
23. See John Bull and John Farrand Jr., The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds: Eastern Region (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977), 410. Bull and Farrand describe the bittern as "secretive, preferring to freeze and trust its concealing coloration when approached rather than flush like other herons. When an observer is nearby it will often raise its head, point its bill skyward, and sway slowly from side to side, as if imitating waving reeds." The bird's actions could be equated to those of individuals or cultures that will employ protective positioning to maintain a sense of safety.
24. Hanson, introduction to Sketch Book, iii.
25. Bull and Farrand, Audubon Society Field Guide, 544.
26. Interestingly, Rubin-Dorsky contends we should not turn to Rip (and Ichabod Crane) for answers as to how Americans will achieve and maintain "'self-dependence'"—which Irving suggests in a journal entry is "'our only chance for character.'" He points instead to the two Indian sketches, "Traits of Indian Character" and "Philip of Pokanoket" (Adrift in the Old World, 95). Indeed, each sketch does have much to say about mutability, the abstracting process, and particularly the cultural arrogance of white society on the North American continent, which demonstrates, through our inability or unwillingness to look beyond our own cultural nests, "[h]ow truly are we the dupes of show and circumstance!" (History, Tales and Sketches, 1011). These perceptions, however, seem clearly to apply to "Rip Van Winkle" as well.
27. See Lynen, Design of the Present, 159. Lynen would argue in fact that the tale's illustration of political change is illusory, that the shift to a new form of government "is, in effect, no change at all."
28. Ironically, perhaps, the tale could be said both to ridicule and to justify the "generational sovereignty" concept propounded by Thomas Jefferson—never a poster boy for Irving and the Salmagundi Group. Jefferson's famous letter of 6 September 1789 questions "[w]hether one generation of men has a right to bind another," declaring that "the earth belongs in usufruct to the living" (Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, Paris, in vol. 15 of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd [Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1958], 392). "Rip" seems to demonstrate that generations will own future generations, even in free societies. Whether or not this is necessarily good, in Irving's view it is inevitable.
Steven Blakemore (essay date 2000)
SOURCE: Blakemore, Steven. "Family Resemblances: The Text and Contexts of 'Rip Van Winkle.'" Early American Literature 35, no. 2 (2000): 187-207.
[In the following essay, Blakemore presents a critical overview of the historic context that inspired "Rip Van Winkle."]
Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" has been considered from a variety of perspectives, and while the tale was once read as a mythic escape from history, it is now being read as the irrevocable presence of history in America.1 But Irving's story involves a more complicated vision of history than has heretofore been recognized. In this essay, I begin a recovery of the specific historical texts and contexts that underwrite the first story in Irving's [The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. ] (1819-20) that treats an ostensible American subject. I commence with a close reading of the story's European "pasts" (Dutch, Swedish, and English) and discuss how they culminate in a variety of national, ideological, and thematic resemblances, suggesting in a story of change, that nothing has changed at all.2 I then consider Irving's ambivalent presentation of the American Revolution—a presentation that simultaneously contains a "public" celebration and a covert, intertextual critique of the Revolution's legacy. The critique, as will be seen, is in context of the two primary texts informing Irving's tale: Irving'sSalmagundi (1807-8) andA History of New York (1809). Discussing how Irving intertextually incorporates various scenes and phrases into his story in order to question the Revolution he is overtly celebrating, I illustrate how this questioning becomes a thematic blurring through which the Puritan experience in America (and the English Civil War of the 1640s) resembles both the American and French Revolutions and vice versa.
With regard to Irving's well-known disdain for the Puritans, Donald A. Ringe has discussed the significance of his hostility, and Martin Roth has shown how this hostility is translated into "Rip Van Winkle" via theHistory of New York : the Puritan experience in America haunts America's revolutionary legacy. Expanding on Roth's reading, I illustrate that the allusive links between theHistory and "Rip Van Winkle" are even more extensive and that Irving's intertextual meditation is central to the story's meaning. Allusively interweaving the con(texts) of Salmagundi and theHistory into "Rip Van Winkle," Irving envisions the Puritan, American, and French "revolutions" as a cause-and-effect phenomenon: the Puritan revolution causes the American Revolution, which, in turn, causes the French Revolution. I consequently focus on the texts and contexts that Irving incorporates into his story and the resounding intertextual dialogue that underwrites its meaning. I argue that Irving writes "out" his own anxieties and ambivalence toward America, the Revolution, and himself—the expatriated author living abroad in England, in the wake of his family's bankruptcy (1818), feeling guilty for years of authorial idleness, in a profession considered suspect in nineteenth-century America. In a self-conscious sketch book about England and its Anglo-American audience, Irving tells an ambivalent tale about his country, celebrating the American Revolution and yet questioning its Puritan "democratic" origin and its revolutionary "French" resemblance. In the end, the story's overt comedy and deceptive simplicity belie the complexity of this intricate American classic.
In a story that is a complex intertextual meditation on the significance of America, it is not coincidental that Irving prefaces "Rip Van Winkle" with its putative origin—the tale "found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old gentleman of New York, who was very curious in the Dutch history of the province, and the manners of the descendants from its primitive settlers." "The result of" Knickerbocker's "researches was a history of the province, during the reign of the Dutch governors, which he published some years since": i.e.,The History of New York (1809), which Irving wrote in the persona of his fictional Dutch historian.3 The selfreflexive allusions(s) to theHistory, a history also "found," like "RVW" ["Rip Van Winkle" ], among Knickerbocker's papers and books (seeHistory 376), contextually establishes the story's thematic frame.
Similarly, in the opening paragraph of "RVW," Irving intertwines two histories, commencing with "the little village . . . founded by some of the Dutch colonists" at "about the beginning" of Peter Stuyvesant's reign (1647-64). Stuyvesant was the last Dutch East India governor of the province of New Netherlands before it became the English colony of New York, so the story alludes to specific historical beginnings and ends: the end of the Dutch presence and the beginning of English rule. Thus, the story's beginning with the village's foundational Dutch history (the last seventeen years of Stuyvesant's reign) is actually in context of the story's true temporal beginning, when "the country was yet a province of Great Britain" ("RVW" 770). "RVW" ends, of course, with the American Revolution and the "beginning" of the new "union." Irving hence encodes a series of historical times that impinge on and overlap each other. Rip's Dutch patrimony is, for instance, in context of European war in the new world. Rip is a "descendent of the Van Winkles who figured so gallantly in the chivalrous days of Peter Stuyvesant, and accompanied him to the siege of Fort Christina" ("RVW" 770)—the Swedish fort taken by the Dutch in 1655. This battle precipitated the subsequent expulsion of the Swedish colonists from their settlement in the new world. The paragraph hence thematically evokes the European conquest of virgin America and the fate of three European powers: Sweden, Holland, and England.
Irving, however, contrasts Rip with the brave Van Winkles who "figured so gallantly" in the siege of Fort Christina, since Rip inherited "but little of the martial character of his ancestors" ("RVW" 770). Irving hence plays an ironic trick on the reader ignorant of hisHistory, where the siege of Fort Christina figures prominently and where in the mock-epic catalogue of the families comprising Stuyvesant's army, Rip's glorious ancestors are introduced: "the Van Winkles of Haerlem, potent suckers of eggs, and noted for running of horses and running up of scores at taverns" (bk. 6, ch. 4, 631; see also 649). Moreover, Irving, in theHistory, had treated the siege of Fort Christina in mock-heroic terms (bk. 6, ch. 7, 648-58) and then, in the subsequent chapter, admitted that he had invented everything, that the battle itself was a non-event: the Swedes were easily vanquished, and Diedrich Knickerbocker "cannot find that a single man was killed, or even wounded" (659). Irving's intertextual playfulness, and the prefatory reference to Knickerbocker'sHistory, actually subvert the gallant Van Winkles and the siege of Fort Christina, illustrating that theHistory is intended to shape the story's allusive meaning.
Thus, rather than suggesting that Rip has degenerated from his ancestors' martial prowess, theHistory compels us to read Irving's remarks ironically: Rip, in fact, resembles his ancestors, doing everything but attending family and national business. "RVW" is thematically grounded in the contexts of theHistory, in which weak European powers surrender to stronger—the Swedes to the Dutch, the Dutch to the English, and, by extension, in "RVW," the English to the Americans. Thus the intertextual allusion to the battle of Fort Christina and Rip's family resemblance actually affirms that Rip thematically embodies the ancestral fate of the Dutch.
In addition, the opening paragraph of "RVW" establishes the theme of the national "British" family breakup "while the country was yet a province of Great Britain": the Kaatskill mountains "are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family" ("RVW" 769). The imagery suggests a family that is split off and broken, and Irving employs the "branch" metaphor for families in other essays inThe Sketch Book (see 793, 879, 928, 931). In a story dealing with the change from British to American rule, Irving allusively evokes the commonplace family metaphor used before, during, and after the Revolution: England was the "mother" or "parent" country, and the American colonists were her children. But there is another pertinent cultural metaphor, for Rip is a henpecked husband, bedgered by his demanding wife, and soon finds himself separated from his family.
In this context, Jay Fliegelman has shown that on the eve of the American Revolution, there was a flurry of newspaper articles and pamphlets dealing with the misery of bad marriages and "bad wives" who made the marriage union impossible, and hence divorce an inevitable reality. Indeed, there was a psychological dimension to the sudden discourse on divorce, as if the colonists were rehearsing reasons for their inevitable divorce from England. Fliegelman quotes an illustrative article in the December 1775 issue of The Pennsylvania Magazine, edited by Thomas Paine, titled "One Cause of Uneasiness in the Married State," in which a beleaguered husband complains that once his wife "established her empire over me," she became even more demanding. In this context, Fliegelman notes that in Irving's famous story, "Rip, driven from home by the tyrannical 'petticoat government' of his 'termagant' virago of a wife, sleeps through the Revolutionary War and awakens to find his wife dead and George III deposed. Irving's tale in its stress on domestic politics is more historically acute than has perhaps been realized." Irving, like most of his generation, still breathed the air of the Revolution, and his story thematically mimes the discourse of independence associated with the Revolution (Fliegelman 124-25; 293, note 5).4
Rip is, for instance, characterized as "an obedient, hen-pecked husband," but he is actually disobedient, looking for pretexts to esape "petticoat government." Consequently, his patrimonial estate "had dwindled away under his management" ("RVW" 770, 771)—a "British" view of the Americans, who were accused of not doing their part, especially after the French and Indian War (1754-63). The Americans were hence accused of neglecting their domestic, economic duty in maintaining the British empire in America. Rip, in this context, engages in a kind of passive resistance à la the pre-revolutionary colonies. There are a series of suggestive family resemblances encoded in "RVW," and Rip's escape constitutes a metaphoric rebellion against the monarchic wife, the domestic, colonial, petticoat governor. Although Rip helps his neighbors with their labor, especially the "good" village wives, who significantly take his part against the "bad" wife (770), and although the scene is primarily comic, the tale nevertheless includes recognizable familial commonplaces impinging on Rip's eventual independence and integration into the new American family—the national "patrimonial estate" and "union" under new management.
Critics, of course, have routinely commented on the revolutionary references and the contrast between British, colonial time and the new American Revolution that replaces the portrait of George III with that of George Washington. Vedder's Anglo-Dutch inn, for instance, becomes the Union Hotel, with the political pun on national "union." When Rip first awakes into the new American reality, there is the contrast between the crow he saw when his name was first called by the phantom stranger and the soaring eagle he now sees—symbol of the new American nation ("RVW" 774, 776).5 In addition, Rip's confusion, his identity crisis, is clearly political; when he returns home after twenty years, he is disoriented and bewildered, identifying himself as "a loyal subject of the King—God bless him!" Accused of being a Tory spy and seeing in his son "a precise counterpart of himself," Rip is "completely confounded" and doubts his "identity," exclaiming, "I am changed, and I can't tell what's my name, or who I am" (780, 781). Once he is reidentified, however, and taken to his new home, he obtains his new social, political status "as one of the patriarchs of the village and a chronicle of the old times 'before the war'" ("RVW" 783).
Respected and esteemed, Rip rejects the past, "finding many of his cronies . . . rather worse for the wear and tear of time," preferring to make "friends among the rising generation, with whom he soon grew into great favour" ("RVW" 783; my emphasis). The adjective rising had a cultural, political significance in context of America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It signified America as a new rising power, culturally and politically destined to eclipse old, corrupt Europe, as in the ubiquitous theme, "the rising glory of America." Similarly, the phrase "rising generation" was used in context of the first post-revolutionary generation. The Democratic Society of Canaan, New York (8 March 1794), for example, called upon "patriots" to "associate, animate and inspire the rising generation with sentiments, worthy the hearts of the heroes of the American Revolution."6 In the essay that follows "RVW" inThe Sketch Book ("English Writers on America" ), Irving self-consciously addresses his English audience, referring to America's "rapidly growing importance and matchless prosperity . . . in all our rivalships with England we are the rising and the gaining party" (Sketch Book, 792).7
The theme of "rising" is further connected to Rip's awakening to the new America in Irving's reference to the "little German superstition about the emperor Frederick der Rothbart and the Kypphauser Mountain," in the "note" that follows the story ("RVW" 784). The "little German superstition," the putative foreign source for "RVW," albeit denied by Diedrich Knickerbocker, alludes to the legend that Frederich I (1152-90) "lay asleep in a cave awaiting Germany's rise to world eminence, at which time he would reemerge" (Lauter 1305, note 7). The allusion hence links the German legend with its new-world meaning: Rip awakes to find America's new independent eminence and the rising glory of America.8
Integrated into the new American union, Rip becomes the oral historian of the prerevolutionary past, "the old times 'before the war'" ("RVW" 783), and his popularity with the "rising generation" implicitly suggests the obvious: Rip does not nostalgically extol the "English" past—he is a witness to how bad it was. This explains his popularity with the new nationalistic generation: initially identified as an alien, Tory spy, Rip is finally integrated into the new American family when he affirms a revolutionary reading of "the old times 'before the war'" ("RVW" 783). In this sense, Rip and Irving also share family resemblances. As story-teller and historian, Irving, the expatriated American, self-consciously writes about the English past and, conscious of English readers and critics, tells an American tale as a way of coming home.9 The story then is a celebration of the great political change that Rip awakens to experience, but it also encodes Irving's own ambivalence toward the "new" America the Revolution had created. One of the tale's subversive subplots suggests that the Revolution essentially repeated the pejorative past and consequently that nothing had really changed.10
The contrast, for instance, between the portrait of George III at Nicholaus Vedder's inn and the portrait of George Washington at Jonathan Doolittle's Union Hotel seemingly emblemizes the political change from the colonial, English past to the postrevolutionary American present. In the first scene, the Dutch descendants, the "sages, philosophers, and other idle personages," now loyal British subjects, are thematically linked to Rip: they sit under a "rubicund portrait of his majesty George the Third" and talk "listlessly over village gossip" or tell "endless sleepy stories about nothing" ("RVW" 772). Rip is also considered "idle," tells "long stories" to the children and, at the end, is "idle, with impunity" (770, 783), telling stories about himself and the past—thematic "witch-and-ghost" stories, finally getting himself "into the regular track of gossip" (783), just like before (772). Irving himself tells a "sleepy story" apparently about "nothing," since, in the subtext, nothing seems to have changed. Although the "rubicund" portrait of George III prefigures a patriotic American theme—the British "blush" of embarrassment on losing the colonies to George Washington—the scene actually incorporates a similar scene from theHistory.
Indeed, Irving models the Anglo-Dutch inn where Nicholaus Vedder and his cronies—"sages, philosophers and other idle personages"—meet under the rubicund portrait of George III ("RVW" 772) on Communipaw, the "mother settlement" of New York. In theHistory, Irving describes Communipaw as it is presently (i.e., in 1809). In Communipaw, "the honest dutch burghers . . . like wise men and sound philosophers," live "in profound and enviable ignorance of all troubles, anxieties, and revolutions . . . [and] meet . . . at the only tavern in the place, which bears a sign, a square headed likeness of the Prince of Orange; where they smoke a silent pipe, by way of promoting social conviviality, and invariably drink a mug of cider to the success of admiral Von Tromp, who they imagine is still sweeping the British channel, with a broom at his mast head" (History bk. 2, ch. 2, 438).
The similarities are notable: in both scenes, the idle Dutch "philosophers" meet at a tavern to smoke and to talk away the hours underneath a sign (William of Orange, George III). The Dutch burghers in Communipaw talk and live in the past: they toast Von Tromp (apparently Maarten Harpeftszoon Tromp, 1598-1653), the Dutch Admiral who fought against the English in the first Anglo-Dutch war (1652-54), whom they "imagine" is still vanquishing the English. Similarly, the "Dutch" in Rip's village also live in the past, engaging in "profound discussion . . . when by chance an old newspaper fell in their hands" ("RVW" 772). Both scenes deal with "old news," as the past intersects the present. The Dutch of Communipaw, in 1809, are of course anti-English, because they live in post-revolutionary America, and the sign in "the likeness of the Prince of Orange" refers to William III, who of course became "Dutch" king of England in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
Irving, I suggest, having specifically linked Knickerbocker'sHistory to "RVW" in the story's preface, intertextually transposes the scene in Communipaw to suggest, in "RVW," that nothing has really changed. Whether it is the Glorious Revolution or the American Revolution, whether it is the face of William III or George III or George Washington, the past underlies the present and future. This can be seen more radically in Doolittle's hotel sign, changed from George III to George Washington. The changes are meant to be superficial: George III's red coat changed to Washington's blue and buff (the colors of the American revolutionary uniform), the king's scepter changed to Washington's sword ("RVW" 779). The note in The Norton Anthology comments on Irving's playfulness: "Irving's joke is that the new proprietor [Jonathan Doolittle], being a Yankee, is so parsimonious that he will only touch up the sign, not replace it with a true portrait of Washington" (Baym 1: 944, note 9).
In addition, the pun on the parsimonious "Doolittle" plays on Dame Van Winkle's characterization of Rip, suggesting that nothing has changed, and that George Washington is, mutatis mutandis, George III and vice versa. Indeed, there is a covert family resemblance between the two Georges, the royal and the democratic "father." In their respective "signs," both seem benevolent patriarchs looking down on the presiding scene, like Hendrick Hudson keeping a "guardian eye" on the city with his name ("RVW" 782). As in the story itself, underneath the American original is a European source, suggesting a repetition of the past, rather than a revolution in the present.
Just as there is a thematic resemblance between the two Georges in "RVW" and the "sign . . . [bearing] a square headed likeness of the Prince of Orange" in theHistory (bk. 2, ch. 2, 438), there are additional allusions at play. In theHistory, after the Dutch victory (the only one) over the Yankees at Oyster Bay by the Dutch military leader "Stoffel Brinkerhoff," a decree is issued, à la the ancients who honored their "victorious generals with public statues," permitting every Dutch "tavern keeper . . . to paint the head of the intrepid Stoffel on his sign!" (bk. 4, ch. 3, 531). The Dutch "tavern keeper's" sign of Stoffel and the "sign" of Washington replacing George III in the same place where the village tavern used to be is an intertextual critique of Irving's countrymen. Referring to a "smokey painting" of "the illustrious Washington, the father and deliverer of his country," the American speaker inSalmagundi 19 (31 December 1807) says with unintended irony that "as our nation is remarkable for gratitude to great men, it always does honour to their memory, by placing their monuments over the doors of taverns or in the corners of dancing-rooms" (333-34). The four scenes and signs intertextually coalesce to suggest that radical change, in "RVW," is merely superficial and that (sub)versive repetition is really the story's secret theme.
For instance, the Union Hotel, under "new" management, is a "rickety wooden building" with "great, gaping windows, some of them broken, and mended with old hats and petticoats," reminiscent of Rip's "patrimonial estate" that "had dwindled away under his management" ("RVW" 779, 771). In addition, the windows stuffed with "petticoats" suggests that, contra the story's end, "petticoat government" still exists, since the "union" that Rip sees is the thematic locus of the "new" America (cf. Karcher 33).11
There are other changes that ironically resuggest the past. The "great tree" that sheltered Nicholaus Vedder's "quiet little Dutch inn of Yore" is replaced by "a tall naked pole with something that looked like a red night cap, and from it was fluttering a flag on which was a singular assemblance of stars and stripes" ("RVW" 779). The naked pole and the red night cap, a liberty pole and liberty cap, are obvious symbols of the American Revolution and were appropriated by the French in the 1790s to symbolize their revolution. If a variety of pasts underwrite the new America in "RVW," Irving also suggests that the old American Revolution underwrites the new French Revolution, underscoring another ideological family resemblance.
Moreover, the 1776 and 1789 symbols were mockingly prefigured in Irving'sHistory, where the Dutch, in commemorating an act of domestic independence (burning English products in a patriotic bonfire), erect "a pole on the spot, with a device on the top intended to represent the province of Nieuw Nederlandts destroying Great Britain, under the similitude of an Eagle picking the little island of Old England out of the globe" (bk. 7, ch. 4, 693). Irving of course spoofs American patriotic "Nonimportation" acts, and the Dutch pole and "device" (i.e. a presageful "liberty" pole and cap) comically connect the Dutch colonial struggle against England with the American colonial struggle against the same nation. Thus, there are a series of reinscribed pasts, for the liberty cap was also worn by emancipated slaves in Ancient Rome and by radical followers of John Wilkes as well as by rebels in the Lowlands in the eighteenth century. Subsequently, the American liberty cap became, mutatismutandis, the French Phrygian bonnet or liberty cap (Leith 2: 920). The weight of intersecting pasts comes full circle in Irving's texts, as radical revolutions, commemorated as new beginnings, turn into old revolutionary endings. Irving continually suggests that we have seen these "texts" and "pasts" before.
In "RVW," the liberty cap appearing to be a "red night cap" (779) additionally evokes Rip's "sleep" and the dawning of revolution(s). The question in "RVW" is precisely what kind of revolution greets Rip's awakening, and its political context is the Federalist-Republican debate in America: the Federalists insisting that the liberating American Revolution had nothing in common with the terroristic French Revolution and Republicans or "Democrats" insisting that the American Revolution produced the French Revolution—that America and France were sister republics.12 Indeed, the causal connection between both revolutions was a cultural commonplace, and Irving himself, albeit comically, had, toward the end of theHistory, declared that the American Revolution had produced French revolutionary terror:
The hitherto scattered [American] colonies . . . waxed great and powerful, and finally becoming too strong for the mother country, were enabled to shake off its bonds, and by a glorious revolution [note the repetitive link to England's 1688 revolution] became an independent empire—But the chain of effects stopped not here; the successful revolution in America produced the sanguinary revolution in France, which produced the puissant Bonaparte who produced the French Despotism, which has thrown the whole world in confusion!
(bk. 7, ch. 9, 722)
Revolutions degenerate and spin out of control, and in "RVW" there is an ominous linkage between the American and French Revolutions, almost as if French terror can be seen reflected back in the American Revolution, or that the American Revolution had degenerated into a mirror image of its sister republic.
It is hence not coincidental that Rip apparently returns home in 1789—at the beginning of the French Revolution, in the year Washington was first elected president. Robert H. Woodward presents that date based on Hendrick Hudson's return to the Catskill Mountains every twenty years: "Since Hudson discovered the river in 1609, twenty year intervals would lead to 1769 as the latest date on which Rip would have met Hudson's men while the colony was under British rule" (70).13 Although Woodward amazingly believes the "concealed date" contains no political significance (the 1769 date would additionally suggest that Rip fell asleep on the eve of the American Revolution), the two revolutions are linked through their shared political symbols and would be recognized by Irving's readers, in 1820, five years after Waterloo (1815). In the story, there are certainly terroristic echoes of mob intimidation, specifically in the scene at Doolittle's hotel and the correspondent political struggle between Federalists and "Democrats" ("RVW" 779). There is a covert French context that belies the comic surface, for Federalists and Republicans had heatedly contested the significance of the French Revolution in the 1790s, especially during the 1793-94 period, when the French minister Edmund Charles Genêt agitated in behalf of revolutionary France in America and the pro-revolutionary Democratic-Republican societies sprang up in cities along the eastern seaboard.14
When Rip returns to the village, he is accused of being a disloyal traitor, a Tory spy, conjuring up the xenophobic paranoia of the era, when Republicans had accused Federalists of being crypto royalists or unabashed "Tories"—of trying to reintroduce a British-style monarchy by first suspending American liberties. In this scenario, George Washington resembled George III, and the Alien Sedition Acts of 1798, acts passed by the Federalist Congress against "seditious" foreigners and a seditious press—specifically advocates of the French Revolution—signified that Federalists were betraying the American Revolution by opposing France's revolution. Conversely, the Federalists had accused Republicans of trying to subvert the laws of the land, promote revolution, and create a Jacobin republic in America. In a sense, the demonized discourse of both sides projected and reflected each other, and it is this allusive Franco-American atmosphere that Rip encounters: the political agitation, the haranguing speeches, the evocative intimidation and mob violence of a polarizing Democratic-Federalist election. The scene at Doolittle's hotel thematically and allusively reflects Irving's discomfort with popular parties and democratic politics. Thus the atmosphere in "RVW" is that of the 1790s rather than 1789, but Irving is perhaps suggesting the ironic linkage of dates (1776-89, and 1793-94) and the thematic degeneration of popular, democratic revolutions.
In the village, Rip is asked on what side he voted, "whether he was Federal or Democrat" ("RVW" 779), reminiscent of Girondins and Jacobins and other French contexts. For instance, the "bilious" orator "haranguing veemently about rights of citizens—elections—members of Congress—liberty—Bunker's hill—heroes of seventy six" (779) suggests, in the post-1815 period, a variety of French republican slogans: rights of man, elections, members of the National Assembly-cum-Convention, liberty, fraternity, equality, the Bastille, and the heroes of '89.15 Revolutionary rhetoric, like liberty poles and caps, resonates with parodic resemblances.
The slogan, "heroes of seventy six," for instance, has a special intertextual relevance, underscoring Irving's suspicion of revolutionary cults, whether in France or America. In theHistory, Irving refers to the phrase pejoratively: "Often have I seen a well meaning hero of seventy six, most horribly puzzled to make up his opinion about certain men and measures, and running a great risk of thinking right; until all at once he resolved his doubts by resorting to the old touch stone of Whig and Tory [anachronistic titles]; . . . used on all occasions by the sovereign people" (bk. 6, ch. 6, 547-48). Irving's criticism of the hero of '76 who thinks in anachronistic "English" party labels mocks democratic politics, since the hero of '76 repeats the political terms used by the "sovereign people"—the radical phrase associated with the French Revolution in the 1790s.16 It is this allusive context that informs the intimidating democratic election in "RVW" and the accusation that Rip, post-1783, is a "Tory" spy.
Similarly, Irving, in theHistory, refers again to the heroes of '76, via a connective discussion of the seventeenth-century Dutch. In a sarcastic chapter titled "The Sovereign People Relieved," Irving refers to "the swinish multitude," the controversial phrase used by Edmund Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), and connects the public admiration for old Dutch explorers, "held up as infallible oracles by the enlightened [Dutch] mob," with the correspondent belief of the American people in the "infallibility of our old 'heroes of 76.'" Hence the American people do not believe that a hero of '76 "who fought for a government, however stupid he might naturally be, was not competent to fill any station under it" (History bk. 7, ch. 1, 670). One page later (671), an orator harangues "the sovereign people," "the enlightened mob," with "a deluge of . . . patriotic phrases"—"horror! tyranny! liberty! rights! taxes!"—reminiscent of Franco-American revolutionary slogans and the "bilious" orator in "RVW" who deluges the crowd with assorted patriotic phrases—"elections . . . liberty . . . heroes of seventy six" ("RVW" 779). In addition, "the enlightened [Dutch] mob," in theHistory, allusively evokes Irving's sarcastic characterization of the American people as "the most enlightened people under the sun" inSalmagundi. 17
Thus the patriotic phrases spouted by the "bilious" orator "with his pockets full of hand bills" and which seem "a perfect babylonish jargon to the bewildered Van Winkle" ("RVW" 779; my emphasis) intertextually conflate with Irving's previous critique of America and the "fall" of political discourse. InSalmagundi 15 (1 October 1807), for instance, Irving satirizes the democratic politician, Timothy Dabble: "Dabble was likewise very loud in his professions of integrity, incorruptibility, and disinterestedness, words which being filtered and refined through newspapers and election handbills, have lost their original signification" (282; my emphasis). In a letter to his friend Mary Fairlie (2 May 1807), Irving vehemently criticized a New York election that had drawn him "into the vortex": "I talked handbill-fashion with the demagogues, and I shook hands with the mob . . . the Seventh Ward . . . is the most fertile ward in mob, riot, and incident, and I do assure you the scene was exquisitely ludicrous. Such haranguing and puffing and strutting among all the little great men of the day" (Pierre M. Irving 1: 151-52). The imagery and themes of Irving's prior anti-democratic discourse are subtly reinscribed into "RVW," raising questions about Irving's public celebration of the democratic "union."
The political setting of Doolittle's Union Hotel, the raucous agitation of a popular election, suggests that little has changed, even though Rip thinks it has. We have seen this kind of bustling, political activity before in Irving'sHistory, in Irving's disparagement of "popular meetings, prevalent in our day," and the Dutch "mob, since called the sovereign people." These "popular meetings," Irving notes, "were always held at a noted tavern" (History bk. 4, ch. 5, 544, 545, 546; my emphasis). In theHistory, Irving uses aspects of the Dutch past to satirize American politics in the 1800s, the "popular meetings, prevalent in our day," which he conflates with the political agitation surrounding the French Revolution and its aftermath. Likewise, in "RVW," Irving allusively writes "Dutch" scenes into his political allegory of Franco-democratic America.
Various passages fromSalmagundi also function as intertextual commentary in "RVW." When Rip ingenuously identifies himself as a loyal subject of George III, the democratic crowd attacks him for being a Tory spy, in Irving's satire of republican intolerance. After all, just how threatening can Rip, post-1783, be? Likewise, inSalmagundi 14 (19 September 1807), the Tripolitan prisoner Mustapha satirically focuses on American, democratic intolerance via a conversation between two American prisoners, two of Mustapha's "fellow lodgers":
[Both] were . . . employed in condemning a luckless wight to infamy, because he chose to entertain certain erroneous opinions some thirty years ago [i.e. 1777]. Shocked at their illiberal and vindictive spirit, I rebuked them for thus indulging in slander and uncharitablenesses, about the colour of a coat, which had doubtless for many years been worn out, or the belief in errors, which in all probability had been long since atoned for and abandoned; but they justified themselves by alledging that they were only engaged in politicks, and exerting that liberty of speech, and freedom of discussion, which was the glory and safeguard of their national independence. "Oh" . . . thought I, "what a country must that be, which bears its political safety on ruined characters and the persecution of individuals."
Rip also shows up in old, unfashionable clothes and with an unfashionable opinion of who he and George III are. It is at this point that the crowd (mob) threatens him with democratic justice: "A tory! . . . a spy! a Refugee! hustle him! away with him!" ("RVW" 780). Given what happened to those identified as Tories and spies before and during the Revolution, the ominous "hustle . . . away" evokes ropes, feathers, and tar. It is such intertextual moments, in which scenes in "RVW" recall similar ones in both Salmagundi and theHistory, that belie the apparent comedy of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
For example, the hectoring, "bustling," change Rip finds in the village, a change implicitly contrasted with the peaceful, earlier Dutch time, ideologically dovetails with the contrast, in theHistory, between the genial "golden age" of a previous Dutch governorship (Wouter Van Twiller) and the new (Jeffersonian) administration of Wihelmus Kieft:
There were neither public commotions, nor private quarrels; neither parties, nor sects . . . neither prosecutions, nor trials, nor punishments . . . Every man attended to what little business he was lucky enough to have, or neglect it if he pleased, without asking the opinion of his neighbor.—In those days nobody meddled with concerns above his comprehension, nor thrust his nose into other people's affairs.
(History bk. 3, ch. 2, 474)
In "RVW," Rip encounters all the present strife associated with Kieft's government: "a busy, bustling disputatious tone . . . instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquility" (779). There are political parties, and Rip is threatened with punishment, accused of being a Tory. He is asked to identify which party he voted for as well as his political affiliation ("RVW" 779, 780). Everyone seems to attend everyone else's business, just as the Puritan Yankees of the History attend "to every body's business but their own" (History bk. 5, ch. 4, 584).18
Commentators of theHistory have routinely noted that Irving was basing Wilhelmus Kieft and his government on Thomas Jefferson and his administration. In other words, Rip awakens and walks into a recognizably Jeffersonian America, with a divisive two-party system, obtrusive democratic politics, and aggressive anglophobia.The Sketch Book was published in 1819-20, and Rip's "twenty years" ago also approximates 1800 or roughly when Jefferson republicanism was ascendant (Jefferson was elected president in the democratic "revolution" of 1800). The 1800 date does not thematically contradict 1789, since Jefferson and his supporters were advocates of the ongoing French Revolution (see n. 24). Irving, as we have seen, ideologically conflates a variety of times in which the present can be read back into the past and vice versa, times that thematically resemble each other.
Hence theHistory, for instance, continually impinges on the significance of "RVW." To Rip, the "very character of the people seemed changed. There was a busy, bustling disputations tone about it" ("RVW" 779). Likewise, during the administration of Wilhelmus Kieft, "the disposition of the inhabitants . . . experienced an essential change, so that they became very meddlesome and factious" (History bk. 4, ch. 5, 543-44). These intertextual interchanges challenge, even subvert, the comic concept of a Rip who awakens to a different America, but becomes accustomed to the price of "progress." What is conventionally read as an uncomfortable, albeit necessary change, is actually a critique of Jeffersonian, democratic politics, and hence there seems to be a post-Federalist bias or agenda.
But while the story contains a Federalist subtext, Irving, in the end, criticizes both parties for politicizing America. Rip, we recall, is asked by two different men how he voted, "whether he was a Federal or Democrat?" ("RVW" 779).19 Then "a knowing, self important old gentleman" threateningly asks Rip, who has been followed by "an army of women and children," why he has come "to the election with a gun on his shoulder and a mob at his heels, and whether he meant to breed a riot in the village?" (779, 780). The class vocabulary of "mob" and "riot," especially since the "mob" is the disenfranchised "army" of women and children, identifies the man as a conservative Federalist. The same vocabulary (mob and riot) was used similarly in Irving's anti-electoral letter to Mary Fairlie (2 May 1807; see bottom p. 91, top p. 92). There is perhaps an additional comic allusion to the October Days of 1789, when an army of women marched to Versailles and brought the royal family back to Paris. At any rate, the speaker's preoccupation with mob violence contextually colors him as a Federalist.
When Rip, however, identifies himself as a loyal subject of George III, the rest of the bystanders, the implicit majority, denounce him as a Tory, a spy, and refugee ("RVW" 780). Consequently, they contextually identify themselves as (Jeffersonian) "Democrats." The pejorative "Tory" was of course used against supporters of the English during the American Revolution and against Federalist opponents of the French Revolution, who were accused of being pro-British (revolutionary France had been at war with Britain since 1793). A "spy" makes sense in both contexts, and a refugee is also relevant, since a "Tory" refugee would refer to one of the "American refugees, who left their country at the revolution," as Noah Webster put it in his 1848 Dictionary.20 Rip as a Tory refugee would hence be a pro-English spy who has returned "again" to betray his country. Conversely, the (Federalist) accusation of mob violence and riot ironically turns into a Jefferson mob that threatens to "hustle" Rip "away" ("RVW" 780)—suggestively to be hung or tarred-and-feathered—the "popular" punishment for spies and Tories during and after the Revolution. In addition, there is a French-revolutionary context to refugee, since French refugees were commonly denounced by "democrats" and "republicans" as hostile, aristocratic agents of the ancien régime, who had betrayed la patrie by fleeing abroad to oppose the French Revolution. This polemical vocabulary can be seen, for example, in The Boston Independent Chronicle of 18 September 1794, in its attack on those antirevolutionaries denouncing the pro-French revolutionary popular societies in America: "With a continual yelping and barking are our Swindlers, Aristocrats, Refugees and British Agents making at the Constitutional Societies" (Foner 33).
Thus, while Irving intended the American Revolution to be read positively in "RVW," he also reinscribed a variety of political and cultural contexts expressing his ambivalence and doubts over what the Revolution had become. The crucial context is, as I have suggested, Franco-Puritan. Indeed, it is the Puritan presence in the new world that explains what seems to be wrong in "RVW" : the noisy and nosey inquisitorial atmosphere and the suggestive mob intimidation and violence. Irving's hostility to New England Yankees and their Puritan heritage is well known, even when expressed comically, as in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," the other anti-Puritan story inThe Sketch Book. Irving's New YorkHistory is, in this regard, especially apropos to "RVW," since it allusively underwrites his anti-Puritan ideology.
In "RVW," the symbol of post-revolutionary America is the Union Hotel, where the proprietor is Jonathan Doolittle, a Yankee. The change from Vedder's Anglo-Dutch inn to the Yankee hotel suggests that America, and control of what the Revolution signifies, is under Yankee, Puritan management. How the Puritans arrived in the new world, specifically New England and New York, and how they came to manage the new "union" is part of "RVW" 's between-the-lines history.
Historically, the Puritans had first arrived in Long Island in 1640. The Dutch East India Company had found it difficult to recruit labor, and so it encouraged immigration from abroad and within. In addition, New Netherlands, in the 1640s, "had virtually been willing to mortgage itself to New England in exchange for military assistance against the Indians" and thus "English settlers began to infiltrate the colony on a permanent basis and upon favorable terms, including freedom of religion." The New Englanders brought their autonomous churches, town meetings, and communal land systems, so tensions between the Dutch and English were inevitable (Kammen 69, 39-40, 52, 63). These tensions climaxed during the reign of the last Dutch governor, Peter Stuyvesant (1647-64), who viewed the influx of New England Puritans with alarm. Various land disputes between the Dutch and English were eventually settled by a treaty that was, nevertheless, subsequently ignored by the English colonists and made irrelevant when Charles II arbitrarily granted his brother James, Duke of York, all of Long Island. On 8 September 1664, Peter Stuyvesant, lacking support from his own people and confronted with a superior English fleet, reluctantly surrendered Manhattan. The Dutch evacuated New Amsterdam and surrendered by default all their new-world territory. The subsequent defeat of the French in 1763, in the French and Indian War (1754-63), encouraged even more New Englanders to settle in New York, where many of the Revolution's battles were fought, including Saratoga.
In his New YorkHistory, Irving had dealt with the Puritans extensively, characterizing them as invading interlopers and "Mosstroopers" (marauding robbers and bandits), without mentioning that the Dutch had initially encouraged them to migrate. Referring sarcastically to their "invincible spirit of independence," Irving noted that the Puritans, while in England, would not brook "tyranny" and consequently embarked for America, "where they might enjoy unmolested, the inestimable luxury of talking." Indeed, it is this "boasted" Puritan origin that established "the right of talking without ideas and without information—of misrepresenting public affairs . . . of aspersing great characters, and destroying little ones; in short that grand palladium of our country, the liberty of speech" (History bk. 3, ch. 6, 494). Irving hence identified "popular" politics with the Puritan origins of "democracy" and "free speech" and hence the "right" of political persecution and character assassination.
Having suffered persecution in England, the Puritans became the supreme persecutors in America—"banishing, scourging, or hanging" anyone demonized as heretical, especially those who dared "to abuse the liberty of conscience" by not thinking "right"—what the Puritans deemed as right. Consequently, anyone who thought or acted differently was, ipso facto, "a corrupt and infectious member of the body politic, and deserved to be lopped off and cast into the fire" (History bk. 3, ch. 6, 495). Irving suggests a coherent Puritan movement from religious to political persecution. He thus proceeds to connect the Puritan origin of America's logocracy and political intolerance to the contradictory legacy of the Revolution itself:
Have we not within but a few years released ourselves from the shackles of a government, which cruelly denied us the privilege of governing ourselves, and using in full latitude . . . the tongue? and are we not at this very moment striving . . . to tyrannise over the opinions, tie up the tongues, or ruin the fortunes of one another? What are our great political societies, but mere political inquisitions . . . our news-papers but mere whipping posts and pillories, where unfortunate individuals are pelted with rotten eggs . . . [and where in our "council of appointment"] . . . culprits are annually sacrificed for their political heresies?
These are the ironic, intertextual contexts, the intimidating talk of liberty and '76, in the environs of the Union Hotel, that affect Rip when he is "interrogated" and accused of being a Tory spy.
Moreover, Doolittle's Union Hotel is a "large, ricketty wooden building . . . with great gaping windows, some of them broken, and mended with old hats and petticoats" ("RVW" 779). Now compare Irving'sHistory and the Puritans as rootless interlopers, "singular barbarians," specifically the representative Puritan "peddler" who "whistles 'Yankee doodle' and trudges off" to other people's land to build the archetypal Puritan house: "A huge palace of pine boards . . . but so rickety and flimsy withal. . . . The outside remaining unpainted, grows venerably black with time: the family wardrobe is laid under contribution for old hats, petticoats, and breeches to stuff into the broken windows" (History bk. 3, ch. 7, 499; my emphasis).21 Scratch the Union Hotel and underneath you find its Puritan prototype in theHistory, suggesting that the new American "union" is based upon old, "rickety" Puritan foundations. Moreover, that the Puritan peddler, in theHistory, whistles "Yankee doodle"—one of the popular songs of the Revolution—suggestively calls into question the boasted source and origin of the Revolution: New England, the Revolution's "cradle." Irving incorporates into "RVW" theHistory 's imagery and themes, in a story underscoring a variety of intertextual family resemblances, again suggesting that despite apparent changes, nothing has changed at all.
Thus the inquisitorial atmosphere around the Union Hotel has a previous model and basis: the New York History with which Irving prefaces the story. In the History, Irving notes that "[g]angs of [Puritan] marauders . . . penetrated into the New Netherlands settlements and threw whole villages into consternation by their unparalleled volubility and their intolerable inquisitiveness." Several "unoffending" Dutch burghers "were brought to a stand, and so tortured with questions and guesses, that it was a miracle they escaped with their five senses" (History bk. 3, ch. 7, 500-01). This is precisely what the "completely confounded" ("RVW" 781) Rip finds: "unparalleled volubility" and "intolerable inquisitiveness," with everyone minding Rip's business but not their own. Rip also is "tortured with questions and guesses" about his origin and identity; he is asked about his political affiliation and ordered to name his long, lost friends ("RVW" 780).
Rip awakens to new changes explained in terms of the new revolution, but Irving allusively suggests that the new changes are actually a repetition of the Puritan past: the Puritan origin haunts the Revolution. Thus it is pertinent that Rip feels that "both he and the world around him" are "bewitched" ("RVW" 778), or that the reader sees him as the (comical) victim of a political witch hunt. The humor of course masks Irving's subversive questioning of America's democratic revolution. But reading between the lines, Irving'sHistory, evoked in the preface, explains how the Puritans came to New York and appropriated Dutch villages. "RVW" continues the story, suggesting that New Englanders coopted the Revolution and the new union, just as their ancestors had previously coopted and appropriated Dutch colonial history. Thus, while the original Puritans engaged in religious persecution, with its pertinent political implications, Irving suggests that their secular descendants continued the oppressive politicization and bewitching of America.22
There are additional Puritan contexts that color "RVW." For instance, Irving's conflation of the American and French Revolutions, through which American liberty caps and poles resemble their French counterparts, has a pre-history that links both revolutions with the persecutory origin of the Puritans in America. In Irving'sHistory, the Yankee Fort Good Hoop, previously a Dutch fort captured by the New Englanders, is defended by "twenty long sided, hard fisted Yankees; with Weathersfield onions stuck in their hats by way of cockades and feathers . . . and a huge pumpkin was hoisted on the end of a pole, as a standard—liberty caps not having as yet come into fashion" (History bk. 4, ch. 2, 523-24).
The comedic tone again softens the hostile allusion to the Puritan origins of democratic revolution: the New England Puritans invade Dutch New York and establish English dominion; then their descendants inspire the American Revolution which ends England's control and causes the French Revolution. TheHistory that Irving conjures up comically and thematically in the preface to "RVW" prefigures intertextually much of the action in "RVW." In the previous quoted passage, for instance, Irving alludes to Puritan typology—the reading and seeing of Old Testament "types" that prefigure and fulfill New Testament "antitypes." Thus, he allusively suggests that the original Puritans were the prefiguring political forerunners of the American Revolution. The New England onions "stuck" in Puritan "hats" instead of "feathers" (History bk. 4, ch. 2, 523) alludes again to "Yankee Doodle" who "stuck a feather in his cap"—with the double allusion to the Revolution's forthcoming liberty caps.23 But the French Revolution is also inscribed in the Puritan origin, for the "Weathersfield onions stuck in" Puritan "hats, by way of cockades," prefigure the cult of French cockades in the 1790s. Similarly, the Puritan pumpkin "hoisted at the end of the pole" (History bk. 4, ch. 2, 523-24) prefigures the American liberty pole and cap in "RVW," the "red night cap" atop the "naked pole" (779), which in turn prefigures the red liberty cap of the French Revolution, usually embellished with the tricolor cockade.24 In other words, the Puritans and Yankees in Irving'sHistory and "RVW" are the political prototypes that prefigure and "fulfill" the democratic revolutions in both America and France.
Irving satirically employs a secularized typological method, finding ironic prefigurations in the past for circumstances in the present, and this suggests that Irving, in Hayden White's formulation, tells an historical "story" of America, selecting satire as his mode of emplotment and irony as his trope—a congenial mode for Irving's conservative imagination. Irving thus crystallizes the contradiction between the idea of American freedom and Puritan-French revolutionary democracy. The crucial times of his story—the revolutions of 1649, 1688, 1776, 1789, and 1800—are intertwined retrospectively and, consequently, the story's cause-and-effect historical model is deceptive because, as White observes, an historical paradigm is "the model of what a series of historical events will look like once they are explained." Similarly, Christopher Looby, in a discussion of Irving and other nineteenth-century American writers, notes that "[i]n the phenomenalism of historical understanding, effects precede causes" because "historical events . . . must have a meaning imputed to them, and this can be done most effectively in hindsight, when history is written. . . . In any case, there is no escaping the necessity of an historical event's meaning being an effect of deferral and consequence." Irving reads the American and French Revolutions back into Puritanism and then forward into his cause-and-effect thesis. The revolutions of 1649 and 1800 similarly converge and intersect in the American and French Revolutions.25
In "RVW" both revolutions are suggestively being celebrated. A red cap tops the liberty pole from which the stars and stripes flutter in the breeze ("RVW" 779). It was, of course, common for American supporters of the French Revolution in the 1790s to celebrate both revolutions with their respective national symbols: the American flag or "standard," for example, and the French liberty cap. For instance, in a celebration of the anniversary of American Independence in New York by the Tammany Society (7 July 1795), a celebration that linked both revolutions, a procession was "proceeded by the [French] Cap, the Emblem of liberty, and the standard of the United States" (Foner 217; see also 227). In "RVW," both revolutions are deliberately blurred with the contexts of the 1790s. Moreover, there seem to be three additional political allusions that Irving possibly broaches.
In America, the original liberty tree was a large elm that was cut down by British soldiers in 1775 (Boatner 633; Shaw 182). In "RVW," "a large tree" shades Nicholaus Vedder's Anglo-Dutch inn, but the "great tree" is subsequently replaced by the "tall naked pole" with the red liberty cap. If the tree allusively represents the prototypical "liberty tree" (the "Dutch" elm), Irving's irony suggests that liberty has been cut down by the very people who had supposedly established the Revolution. In addition, the resultant "tall naked [liberty] pole" ironically evokes the archetypal maypole that had been hacked down by seventeenth-century Puritans, a theme subsequently explored by Hawthorne in "The May-Pole of Merry Mount" (1835). That the "naked pole" stands suggestively erect is additionally ironic given that the maypole had orgiastic, fertility associations and that Irving simultaneously suggests that the old, despised "pagan" symbol curiously resembles the new fetish symbol of orgiastic, revolutionary France.26
The third context is that of the English Civil War, the Puritan revolution in the 1640s, at a time when New England was "invading" New Netherlands and Charles I was executed (1649) and replaced by Cromwell. After the Restoration (1660), conservatives in England and America continuously linked Puritan dissent with radical, religious politics. During the French Revolution, Edmund Burke, for instance, ideologically identified English Dissenters who supported the French Revolution with their seventeenth-century Puritan prototypes. In England and America, the Revolution's advocates were accused of trying to replicate "the Good Old Cause," this time with success. Conversely, the regicidal model of 1649 (the execution of Charles I) and its Cromwellian aftermath were embraced by "patriots" in the American Revolution and by supporters of the French Revolution in the 1790s (Burke 94-95, 157-58).27 By reading the present back into the past and vice versa, Irving, in "RVW," establishes an intertextual "Puritan" origin for the revolutions in America and France as well as the new American "union."
In this connection, we need to return slowly, via the History, to Jonathan Doolittle and the Puritan management of the new "union." In book 4, chapter 3, Irving depicts the exasperated Dutch attempting to expel a Puritan settlement at Oyster Bay by sending a Dutch military detachment. On the way, the Dutch troops pass through Puritan towns "strangely transplanted to Long Island" by "some unaccountable witchcraft of the Yankees." Various Puritan towns bear the ironic names of Old Testament history (Ninevah, Babylon, and Jericho), and the Dutch are confronted by Puritan "warriors," some bearing mock Old Testament, Puritan names, such as "Habbakuk Nutter" and "Zerubbabel Fisk." Consequently, the Dutch commander "verily believed that the whole parliament of Praise God Barebones had been let loose to discomfit him" (History bk. 4, ch. 3, 529). Praise God Barebones was, as the note in the Library of America edition of Irving's works explains, "a London minister and leather merchant in Cromwell's Parliament of 1653," hence "the source of the derisive name 'Barebones Parliament'" (1137, note 529. 32-36). Significantly, most of the names in "RVW" are taken from theHistory, where they are associated with the Yankee, Dutch rivalry, and where the Yankee names, as in the cited passage, are often associated with New England witch hysteria and the radical, religious politics of the 1640s and 1650s.28
Moreover, in the list of names comprising the Puritan "warriors," there appears "Jonathan Doolittle," the allusive prototype who intertextually prefigures the proprietor of the Union Hotel in "RVW" (History bk. 4, ch. 3, 529).29 The American "Jonathan" (since the Revolution, Jonathan had been the American national name) and the Puritan surname "Doolittle" again suggest ideological kindredness and patrimonial identity in a story about family resemblances. The scene at the Union Hotel, fulfilled antitype of the Puritan-Yankee home, marks an intersection of texts and contexts. Underneath the Union Hotel is a series of colonial pasts, English, Dutch, and American. The sign of George Washington looks back on George III and William of Orange. The American Revolution resembles the French Revolution, and both bear a family resemblance to the Puritan Revolution which, Irving suggests, inspired the democratic revolutions of the late eighteenth century.
Like the Union Hotel, a series of textual pasts also underwrite "RVW," and the comic mode of both the History and the story belies the seriousness with which Irving explores the "Days of the [Dutch] Patriarchs" (History 377, 453, 454, 728) and the Puritan origins of America. In the story, written in England for an Anglo-American audience, Irving allusively addresses his countrymen and reveals his own anxiety and ambivalence about the Revolution, democracy, and the status of the expatriated writer. That these issues are disguised and displaced in a comedy underscores the psychological pressures that compelled Irving to camouflage his critique allusively in a public celebration of the Revolution. In doing this, Irving was not being disingenuous but was writing out the ambiguities of his own place and time: an American in England feeling guilty about lingering, a proud yet ambivalent admirer of his country and a democratic revolution that still seemed ongoing. In a profound sense, the two dialectic readings of the Revolution are both artistically true. Patriots and Puritans, founding fathers and family resemblances, the story is a palimpsest of texts and cultures, in which Salmagundi and theHistory are refigured into a complex American classic. Like the disoriented Rip, Irving finally comes "home," albeit ambivalently, in a story of hopeful anxiety. Through the mediation of Irving's great, conservative imagination, the texts and contexts, the traces and secret signatures coalesce into a significant meditation on the many meanings of nineteenth-century America.
1. For mythic readings, see, for instance, Young 549-73, and Fiedler 232-36; for representative historical, biographic readings, see Rubin-Dorsky 73-76, 102-14; Pearce 115-28.
2. The theme that nothing has changed has been noted by various critics, but my explication of the story's intertextual references, and the overlapping Dutch, English, and Swedish colonial contexts, give this formulation a new substance.
3. Washington Irving, "Rip Van Winkle," in History, Tales, and Sketches, ed. James W. Tuttleton (New York: The Library of America, 1983), 762. All references from "Rip Van Winkle" and other works from The Sketch Book or Salmagundi will be parenthetical, and "Rip Van Winkle" will be abbreviated as "RVW" in the text and parentheses. Likewise, citations from Irving's A History of New York will appear both parenthetically and in the text as History. For those who may have different editions, book, chapter, and page number(s) will be included: (e.g. History bk. 2, ch. 1, 430-31).
4. Throughout his life, Irving was fascinated with the Revolution, and he alludes to it throughout Salmagundi and the History. For Irving's reference to his books on the American Revolution in the same year he first conceived and then wrote "RVW" (1818), see Williams 1: 166.
5. The political symbolism is noted, for instance, by Hugh J. Dawson (271-72, note 22). For an alternative reading, see Zlogar (58). After Rip sees the eagle, however, he is mocked by "a flock of idle crows" ("RVW" 777), suggesting that, appearances to the contrary, nothing has really changed.
6. For the "rising glory of America," see Silverman (178, 228-35, 238, 259, 323, 447, 460, 491, 503, 511-13, 564, 574-75, 577, 582, 598, 605-608, 657, note 2). For the Democratic Society's "rising generation," see Foner (237).
7. In "English Writers on America," Irving argues for national understanding and tolerance on both sides, English and American, but his essay includes patriotic themes implicit in "RVW": America as a rising eagle via the epigraph from Milton ("Methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth"), a "kindred nation," a "child" of England, "the parent country," and America's illusory "mental vassallage"—her cultural inferiority complex (Sketch Book 786, 788, 791).
8. There are various versions of the legend. Irving had originally, in the 1819 edition, referred to "a little German superstition about Charles V" but later changed it to Frederick I. The putative source for Irving's tale is not, as Henry A. Pochmann and others have maintained, the story of "Peter Klaus" in the folktales of J. C. C. N. Otmar, but, as Walter A. Reichart has shown, Johann G. Bushing's "collection of German folklore." See Pochmann 477-98; Reichart, 22-30. Irving's supposed reliance on the folktale of "Peter Klaus" has been overstated: while he uses the "Peter Klaus" scaffolding, his story is four times longer than the German original (Reichart 27), and "RVW"'s numerous cultural and political themes constitute the true source of its originality.
9. Irving frequently felt guilty about lingering in Europe and was often accused of being more English than American, most notoriously in stanza four of Philip Freneau's "To a New England Poet" (1823). In a letter to an American friend (3 March 1819), just before the publication of The Sketch Book in America, Irving wrote plaintively: "Do not I beseech you, impute my lingering in Europe to any indifference to my own country or my friends. My greatest desire is to make myself worthy of the goodwill of my country" and to "return to my friends . . . but I am determined not to return home until I have sent some writings before me that shall, if they have merit, make me return to the smiles, rather than skulk back to the pity of my friends" (Williams 1: 173).
10. This is also a central theme of Irving's History.
11. In the History, the administration of Wilhelmus Kieft (i.e. Thomas Jefferson) submits to "petticoat government" (bk. 4, ch. 1, 518; ch. 3, 526). For the context (petticoat government and democracy), see Roth (158). Besides a brilliant, whimsical treatment of the Dutch in New York, the History is an allegorical satire of nineteenth-century American politics.
12. See Higonnet. For the contexts of the Federalist-Republican controversy, see Elkins and Mckitrick (303-65). For perceived examples of the American-French revolutionary nexus, see Blakemore, Crisis in Representation, passim.
13. Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky (74) concurs with the 1789 date.
14. See Elkins and Mckitrick 330-36; Foner, passim. While the 1789 dating of "RVW" is plausible, Irving seems to conflate different revolutionary times, such as 1789 with 1793-94, the period of the Terror. Although spontaneous mob intimidation actually ended with the Terror and was replaced by institutional government repression, mob violence was commonly associated with Robespierre's reign (1793-94). One problem with the 1789 date is that nascent "Democrats" and "Federals" ("RVW" 779) did not politically exist as parties in 1789, but Irving was undoubtedly not concerned with such chronological niceties.
15. The orator haranguing "about the rights of citizens" ("RVW" 779) is especially suggestive, since citizen(s) was one of the code words in the French Revolution for a classless ci-devant society. In England and America, supporters of the French Revolution, miming the French, addressed each other and the public at large as "citizen" or "citizens." The title of Simon Schama's recent history of the French Revolution emphasizes the word's importance: Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution.
16. The phrase was used by supporters of the Revolution in Europe and America. For the American context in the 1790s, see Foner 23, 190, 192, 250, 374. In Salmagundi 3 (13 February 1807), 7 (4 April 1807), and 11 (2 June 1807), Irving uses the phrase contemptuously (81, 145, 206).
17. See, for instance, Salmagundi 16 (15 October 1807), 293, 297. Throughout Salmagundi, Irving is contemptuous of democratic elections, "mobocracy," and the American government as a "logocracy." The locus classicus is Salmagundi 11 (2 June 1807) which intertextually impinges on the election in "RVW." While critics have referred to Irving's hostility to democratic politics in both Salmagundi and the History, I am interested in suggesting how specific passages are evoked by Irving and refigured into "RVW."
18. In this context, there might be a political allusion in both the History and "RVW" to Philip Freneau, the Jeffersonian editor of the National Gazette and an enthusiastic advocate of the French Revolution. In the National Gazette of 25 July 1792, Freneau supported the establishment of "constitutional societies . . . for the purpose of watching over the rights of the people, for unless the people were politically vigilant, "what is every man's business soon becomes no man's business." Freneau's emphasis; cited by Foner (3-4). In any case, it is not surprising that Freneau disliked Irving.
19. In America, Irving had earlier identified with the Federalists, and there is a subtle political bias in the question Rip is asked, since Federalists had attacked democracy and democrats (via Aristotle's Politics and mob rule), associating both with French Jacobinism, in contrast to a genuine American republic and true republicans. Consequently, there was a semantic debate by both sides over the significance of these words. See Morantz (102). Cf. William Playfair, The History of Jacobinism . . . Containing a History of the American Jacobins, Commonly Denominated Democrats. In Salmagundi 6 (20 March 1807), Irving's conservative character Christopher Cockloft will not reach out hospitably to "two classes of people": "Frenchmen and democrats" (133).
20. Webster, s.v. refugee, def. 2. The 1848 Dictionary coincides with Irving's final additions and revisions in The Sketch Book: the Author's Revised 1848 Edition issued by Putman in New York.
21. Roth, Comedy and America, notes the connection in terms of "petticoat government" (158). William P. Dawson also focuses on petticoats, emphasizing the sexual innuendo (202).
22. Sacvan Bercovitch has examined the ways in which the Puritans identified New England as America, absorbing the significance of the country into a rhetorical personality constituting the "origins of the American self" (72-108, 136-82 and passim). Irving, albeit in a different context, also recognized the significance of the Puritan appropriation of America's meaning.
23. Is there a submerged punning connection between the revolutionary Yankee "Doodle" and the Yankee Jonathan Doolittle, proprietor of the Union Hotel? In discussing the various meanings of "doodle," Kenneth Silverman notes that it "may be a corruption of 'do little'" (276).
24. Cf. Irving's earlier references to French cockades and "red hats." In Salmagundi 2 (4 February 1807), another conservative character, Pindar Cockloft, abhors the French Revolution and American imitations of the revolutionary mania: he groans on hearing the "Ca Ira" and "the Marseilles Hymn," and the "introduction of French cockades on the hats of our citizens" throws him "absolutely . . . into a fever" (71). In Salmagundi 3 (13 February 1807), Peter Cockloft writes a poem lamenting French political fashions: "Red hats and red shawls still illumine the town" of New York (90, line 1). Note that for Irving and many Americans, Napoleonic France is part and parcel of the French Revolution, since, in the 1800s, Irving still refers to the Revolution as an ongoing event.
25. For satire as emplotment and irony as trope, see White 1973, 7-38 and passim; for "historical paradigm," see White 1978, 63; for "historical understanding," Christopher Looby 57, cf. 55.
26. For comparisons of liberty poles with Maypoles in the American Revolution, see Shaw, American Patriots 183-85; for the phallic symbolism of the "naked pole" in "RVW," see William P. Dawson 202. In Irving's blurring of American and French revolutionary symbols, there is something sinister about the naked liberty pole, suggesting the revolutionary pikes to which the French affixed decapitated heads, most notoriously, the head of Marie Antoinette's friend, the Princess de Lamballe, which "was struck off and stuck on a pike" (Schama 635). In "RVW," a "red" night cap is affixed "on top" the naked pole (779).
27. For American identifications with the 1640s and the instructive decapitation of Charles I during the War of Independence, see Shaw 95, 107, 146, 173, 178, 197, 189. For the perceived connections between the Puritan and French Revolutions, see Blakemore, Intertextual War, 19, 110, 138, 149, 161-63, 179-80, 226, n. 6.
28. In addition to the Dutch Van Winkles in the History (bk. 6, ch. 4, 631, 649), Derrick Van Bummel, the "schoolmaster" in "RVW" who subsequently fights in the Revolution and is elected to Congress ("RVW" 780), is prefigured by his comic ancestors "the Van Bummels" who fought against the Swedes in the "battle" of Fort Christina (History bk. 6, ch. 4, 630; ch. 7, 649; see also ch. 8, 664). Likewise, when Rip returns home after twenty years, he finds that his daughter is married to one of the village children who used to climb on his back. Her name is now "Judith Gardenier" ("RVW" 781). Despite the French surname, "the Gardeniers of Hudson" also appear in the History, although "they were absent from the battle, having been sent on a marauding party, to lay waste the neighboring watermelon patches" (History bk. 6, ch. 7, 652; see also ch. 4, 630). Even these small onomastic details illustrate how the History is continually refigured into "RVW."
29. Also noted by Roth (158); and Ringe (455, note 2).
Baym, Nina, et al. (eds.). The Norton Anthology of American Literature, fifth edition. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1998.
Bercovitch, Sacvan. The Puritan Origins of the American Self. New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1975.
——. Intertextual War: Edmund Burke, and the French Revolution in the Writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine, and James Mackintosh. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1997.
Boatner, Mark M., III. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1966.
Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France. 1790. Ed. Conor Cruise O'Brien. Hammondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1986.
Dawson, Hugh J. "Recovering 'Rip Van Winkle': A Corrective Reading." ESQ 40 (1994): 271-72.
Elkins, Stanley, and Erick Mckitrick. The Age of Federalism. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993.
Fiedler, Leslie A. Love and Death in the American Novel. New York: Criterion Books, 1960.
Fliegelman, Jay. Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution against Patriarchal Authority, 1750-1800. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982.
Foner, Philip S. The Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790-1800. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976.
Higonet, Patrice. Sister Republics: The Origins of French and American Republicanism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1988.
Irving, Pierre M. The Life and Letters of Washington Irving. Vol. 1. New York, 1864.
Irving, Washington. "Rip Van Winkle." History, Tales, and Sketches. Ed. James W. Tuttleton. New York: Library of America, 1983.
Kammen, Michael. Colonial New York, A History. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press,.
Karcher, Carolyn L. "Patriarchal Society and Matriarchal Family in Irving's 'Rip Van Winkle' and Child's 'Hilda Silfverling.'" Legacy 2 (Fall 1985): 33.
Lauter, Paul, et al. (eds.). The Heath Anthology of American Literature, vol. 1. Lexington, Mass.: Heath, 1994.
Leith, James A. "Symbolism." Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution, 1789-1799. Vol. 2. Ed. Samuel F. Scott and Barry Rothaus. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985.
Looby, Christopher. Voicing America: Language, Literary Form, and the Origins of the United States. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1996.
Morantz, Regina Ann Markell. "'Democracy' and 'Republic' in American Ideology, 1787-1840." Ph.D. dissertation. Columbia University, 1971.
Pearce, Colin D. "Changing Regimes: The Case of 'Rip Van Winkle.'" Clio 22 (Winter 1993): 115-28.
Playfar, William. The History of Jacobinism . . . Containing a History of the American Jacobins, Commonly Denominated Democrats. Philadelphia, 1796.
Pochmann, Henry A. "Irving's German Sources in The Sketch Book." Studies in Philology 27 (1930): 477-98.
Reichart, Walter A. Washington Irving and Germany. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press, 1957.
Ringe, Donald A. "New York and New England: Irving's Criticism of American Society." American Literature 38 (January 1967): 455-67.
Roth, Martin. Comedy in America: The Lost World of Washington Irving. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1976.
Rubin-Dorsky, Jeffrey. Adrift in the Old World: The Psychological Pilgrimage of Washington Irving. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1988.
Schama, Simon. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989.
Shaw, Peter. American Patriots and the Rituals of Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1981.
Silverman, Kenneth. A Cultural History of the American Revolution. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1987.
Webster, Noah. An American Dictionary of the English Language. Springfield, Mass.: George and Charles Merriam, 1848.
White, Hayden. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1973.
Williams, Stanley T. The Life of Washington Irving. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1935. 2 vols.
Woodward, Robert H. "Dating the Action of 'Rip Van Winkle.'" New York Folklore Quarterly 15 (1959): 70.
Young, Philip. "Fallen from Time: The Mythic 'Rip Van Winkle.'" Kenyon Review 22 (1960): 549-73.
Zlogar, Richard J. "'Accessories that Covertly Explain': Irving's Use of Dutch Genre Painting in 'Rip Van Winkle.'" American Literature 54 (March 1982): 58+.
bowden, mary weatherspoon. washington irving. boston, mass.: twayne publishers, 1981, 201 p.
critical biography focusing on irving's life and career.
hiller, alice. "an avenue to some degree of profit and reputation: the sketch book as washington irving's entrée and undoing." journal of american studies 31, no. 2 (august 1997): 275-93.
discusses the personal circumstances surrounding irving's composition of the sketch book of geoffrey crayon, gent.
tuttleton, james w. "washington irving." in fifteen american authors before 1900: bibliographical essays on research and criticism, edited by earl n. harbert and robert a. rees, pp. 330-56. madison, wis.: university of wisconsin press, 1984.
offers a biography and critical overview of irving's works.
bedell, rebecca. "john quidor and the demonic imagination: ichabod crane flying from the headless horseman(c. 1828)." yale journal of criticism 11, no. 1 (spring 1998): 111-17.
analyses the impact of john quidor's illustrations on a series of irving's works.
couser, g. thomas. "the ruined garden of wolfert webber." studies in short fiction 12, no. 1 (winter 1975): 23-8.
compares irving's short story "wolfert webber" with "the legend of sleepy hollow," contending that the former is a darker reimagining of "sleepy hollow."
kuczynski, peter. "intertextuality in rip van winkle: irving's use of büsching's folk-tale peter klaus in an age of transition." in british romantics as readers: intertextualities, maps of misreading, reinterpretations, edited by michael gassenmeier, petra bridzun, jens martin gurr, and frank erik pointner, pp. 295-315. heidelberg: universitaätsverlag c. winter, 1998.
examines the influence of the folktale peter klaus on irving's narrative in "rip van winkle."
pearce, colin d. "changing regimes: the case of rip van winkle." clio 22, no. 2 (winter 1993): 115-28.
presents several critical reinterpretations of the major themes in "rip van winkle."
piacentino, edward j. "'sleepy hollow' comes south: washington irving's influence on old southwestern humor." in the humor of the old south, pp. 22-33. lexington, ky.: university press of kentucky, 2001.
discusses the influence of irving's works—particularly "the legend of sleepy hollow"—on southwestern humor writers.
poenicke, klaus. "engendering cultural memory: 'the legend of sleepy hollow' as text and intertext." amerikastudien 43, no. 1 (1998): 19-32.
explores how "the legend of sleepy hollow" functions as a representation of american cultural memory.
turner, deanna c. "shattering the fountain: irving's revision of 'kubla khan' in 'rip van winkle.'" symbiosis 4, no. 1 (april 2000): 1-15.
argues that "rip van winkle" shares several thematic motifs with samuel taylor coleridge's poem "kubla khan."
additional coverage of irving's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the gale group:american writers;concise dictionary of american literary biography, 1640-1865;dictionary of literary biography,vols. 3, 11, 30, 59, 73, 74, 183, 186, 250, 254;discovering authors;discovering authors: british edition;discovering authors: canadian edition;discovering authors modules: most-studied authors;discovering authors 3.0;exploring short stories;literature and its times,vol. 1;literature resource center;nineteenth-century literature criticism,vols. 2, 19, 95;reference guide to american literature,ed. 4;reference guide to short fiction,ed. 2;short stories for students,vols. 1, 8, 16;short story criticism,vols. 2, 37;supernatural fiction writers,vol. 1;twayne's united states authors;world literature criticism;writers for children; andyesterday's authors of books for children,vol. 2.