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Washington Irving

Washington Irving Washington Irving[1†]

Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859) was an American short-story writer, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century[1†]. He is best known for his short stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”, both of which appear in his collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent[1†]. Irving was one of the first American authors to receive significant praise abroad[1†][2†], playing an outsized role as an influence on American literature and intellectual life[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Washington Irving was born on April 3, 1783, in New York City[4†][5†]. He was the youngest of eleven children in a prosperous merchant family[4†][5†]. Named after President George Washington, Irving developed a fascination for the upper class of New York City and often sneaked out of family prayer meetings to attend the local theatre[4†][5†].

Irving’s education was not formal. He escaped a college education, which his father required of his older sons[4†]. Instead, he read intermittently at the law, notably in the office of Josiah Ogden Hoffman[4†]. It was here that he fell in love with Hoffman’s daughter, Matilda[4†]. Despite his father’s wishes, Irving did not pursue a traditional path of education. Instead, he apprenticed himself in a law office[4†][5†].

Irving had a passion for books from an early age. He read works like Robinson Crusoe, Sinbad the Sailor, and The World Displayed; or, A Curious Collection of Voyages and Travels[4†][6†]. He studied law privately in the offices of Henry Masterton (1798), Brockholst Livingston (1801), and John Ogden Hoffman (1802), but practiced only briefly[4†][6†].

In his free time, Irving read avidly and wandered around the misty, rolling Hudson River Valley, just north of New York City[4†][5†]. This area, steeped in local folklore and legend, served as an inspiration for his later writings[4†][5†].

Career Development and Achievements

Washington Irving’s literary career began modestly with a series of observational letters to the Morning Chronicle under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle[7†]. His early writings were whimsically satirical essays published in his brother Peter Irving’s newspaper[7†][4†].

In 1804, Irving embarked on an extended tour of Europe, which lasted until 1806[7†][4†]. Upon his return, he passed the bar examination and briefly practiced law[7†][4†]. However, his primary occupation from 1807 to 1808 was collaborating with his brother William and James K. Paulding on a series of 20 periodical essays entitled Salmagundi[7†][4†]. These essays, primarily concerned with contemporary society, remain significant as an index to the social milieu[7†][4†].

Irving’s first major work, A History of New York…by Diedrich Knickerbocker (1809), was a comic history of the Dutch regime in New York[7†][4†]. The writing of this work was interrupted by the sudden death of Matilda Hoffman, which left him incapacitated with grief[7†][4†].

Irving’s international fame came with the publication of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent, which was serialized from 1819 to 1820[7†][4†]. This collection included his most famous short stories, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and "Rip Van Winkle"[7†][4†]. Irving’s works were widely successful, and he continued to write and publish regularly[7†].

In addition to his short stories and essays, Irving also wrote biographies of notable figures such as Oliver Goldsmith and George Washington[7†][4†]. His biography of George Washington extended to five volumes[7†].

Irving served as the U.S. Ambassador to Spain from 1842 to 1846[7†]. Throughout his life, he advocated for writing as a legitimate profession and worked to establish stronger laws to protect American writers from copyright infringement[7†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Washington Irving’s literary debut was in 1802 with a series of observational letters to the Morning Chronicle, written under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle[1†]. However, his fame began to rise with the publication of “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent” which was serialized from 1819 to 1820[1†]. This collection included his most famous short stories, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and "Rip Van Winkle"[1†].

Here are some of his notable works:

Irving’s historical works include biographies of Oliver Goldsmith, Muhammad, and George Washington, as well as several histories of 15th-century Spain that deal with subjects such as the Alhambra, Christopher Columbus, and the Moors[1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Washington Irving’s work is characterized by a unique narrative style that often questions the reliability of the narrator[8†]. His simple yet stark prose, combined with his use of setting and historical background, highlights the uniquely American aspects of his stories[8†]. This is particularly evident in “Rip Van Winkle”, which clarifies the divide between old and new America after the Revolution[8†].

Irving’s history is seen as a conservative challenge to the emergent national consensus[8†][9†]. Instead of glorifying national progress, Irving relates a tale of declension in which America, symbolized by the fictional New Amsterdam, begins as ‘a second Eden’ and then succumbs to the forces of democracy and materialism represented by the Yankees[8†][9†].

Irving was admired by some British writers, including Lord Byron, Thomas Campbell, Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley, Francis Jeffrey, and Walter Scott[8†]. He advocated for writing as a legitimate profession and argued for stronger laws to protect American writers from copyright infringement[8†].

His stories, such as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”, are Americanized versions of German folktales[8†][4†]. These stories, along with his other works, showcase Irving’s ability to adapt and Americanize stories from other cultures, making them uniquely his own[8†][4†].

Personal Life

Washington Irving was engaged to Matilda Hoffman in 1808[10†]. However, she tragically died of tuberculosis before they could marry[10†]. Irving was devastated by her death and never married[10†].

Irving was also in a relationship with a woman named Emily, but they did not marry[10†][11†]. He passed away on November 28, 1859, due to a heart attack[10†][11†]. He was laid to rest at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery[10†][11†]. His home has since become a historical site[10†][11†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Washington Irving’s legacy is vast and enduring. He is often called the "father of the American short story"[12†]. His works, particularly “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle”, have become staples of American literature and folklore[12†][1†][4†].

Irving made short fiction popular and transformed it into a literary form solely for entertainment[12†]. He added richness of atmosphere, unity of tone, and definite locality to his stories, incorporating actual American scenery and people[12†]. His work is characterized by a peculiar nicety of execution, patient workmanship, humor, and lightness of touch[12†].

Irving was original in his storytelling, creating characters who are always definite individuals[12†]. He endowed the short story with a style that is finished and beautiful[12†]. His stories have been retold in scores of languages and have inspired numerous adaptations[12†][13†].

In addition to his contributions to literature, Irving also penned an extensive biography of George Washington[12†][14†]. He advocated for writing as a legitimate profession and argued for stronger laws to protect American writers from copyright infringement[12†][1†].

Irving’s influence extended beyond the United States. He was admired by British writers, including Lord Byron, Thomas Campbell, Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley, Francis Jeffrey, and Walter Scott[12†][1†]. His work played a significant role in shaping the American literary tradition and continues to be celebrated today[12†][1†][4†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Washington Irving [website] - link
  2. Bates College - Museum of Art - Washington Irving Biography [website] - link
  3. Britannica - Washington Irving summary [website] - link
  4. Britannica - Washington Irving: American author [website] - link
  5. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Washington Irving Biography [website] - link
  6. Excellence in Literature - Washington Irving: A Biography [website] - link
  7. The Famous People - Washington Irving Biography [website] - link
  8. eNotes - Rip Van Winkle Analysis [website] - link
  9. Lehigh University - 'The Gigantic Question' in Washington Irving's History of New York - background [website] - link
  10. Historic Hudson Valley - Washington Irving Trivia [website] - link
  11. SunSigns - Washington Irving Biography, Life, Interesting Facts [website] - link
  12. ThoughtCo - Biography of Washington Irving, Father of the American Short Story [website] - link
  13. Fox News - Meet the American who conjured up ‘Legend of Sleepy Hollow’: Washington Irving, first US celebrity author [website] - link
  14. George Washington's Mount Vernon - Washington Irving · George Washington's Mount Vernon [website] - link
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