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Purveyors of romanticism

Regarded as one of America’s earliest and most potent purveyors of romanticism, Washington Irving was also the first American writer of fiction to claim international renown. Irving toured Europe as a young man, enjoyed ample economic and educational resources, and thus was uniquely poised to generate a style of fiction which could engender fame both in his native country and abroad. “Without doubt Irving’s youthful exposure to European scenery and attitudes conditioned and strengthened his romantic predisposition. ” (Aderman 14)

Critically, Irving’s works, particularly those published in his 1822 collection “The Sketch Book,” comprise a transitional stage in American literature, forming a bridge between the realist excursions of the 18th century to a wondrous romanticism in the following century. “In his early writings Irving frequently used the word “romantic” to convey his sense of wonder and awe. Variants and embellishments of the phrase “romantic scenery” appeared regularly in his journals, letters, and published writings, and the romantic outlook seems firmly fixed in his imagination, to appear in various ways for the next half century.

” (Aderman 14) Irving attained a unique blend of satire and melancholy in his most well-known stories: Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. His writings offer a distinctive blend of Old World and new World sensibilities, which, coupled with the sentimentality and archetypal resonance of his best-known works, allowed him to become a beloved spokesperson for traditional values whilst simultaneously embracing what he himself recognized as a young nation— America— which had yet to evolve a defining literature.

Irving’s unusual blend of humor, sometimes mawkish sentimentality, as well as his Gothicism and reverence for the past deeply influenced later writers such as Hawthorne and Henry Washington Irving Page -2- James. His romantic vision of nature, of beauty, and his cultural curiosity captivated his contemporaries “These elements were greatly admired by popular readers, and Irving’s felicitous style appealed to sophisticated readers not ordinarily attracted to the sentimental and sensational”— and still exert a powerful influence over readers today.

Though his narrative style, by contemporary standards, seems slow-moving and bogged down in exposition, the near-mythical resonance of his plots and characters still dazzle modern audience as reinterpreted for the screen, and also in the writings of contemporary authors who admittedly draw less of Irving’s romanticism for favoring his Gothic voice. (Aderman 15) The regional and geological specificity in Irving’s work also offers modern readers a glimpse of America’s glorious, natural past.

Impressions of nature, alongside impressions of Native Americans and customs, lend Irving’s short stories genuine historical richness as well as magnifying his innate romanticism. The “frame” of Rip Van Winkle contains some beautiful writing, enriched by Irving’s sensitivities toward nature and the continent’s indigenous peoples. “The Kattsberg or Catskill Mountains have always been a region full of fable. The Indians considered them the abode of spirits who influecned the eweather, spreading sunshine or clouds over the landscape and sending good or bad seasons.

They were riuled by an old squaw spirit, said to be their mother. She dwelled on the highest peak in the catskills and had charge of the doors of day and night to open and shut them at the proper hour. ” Though Irving’s romanticism is pervasive, his experiments with fantastical themes and implausible phenomena varies between indulgent and repudiatory. On the one hand, a story like Rip Van Winkle depends upon a suspension of disbelief, an implementation of the fantastic and unreal in order to convey a sense of real-life sociological change and an uprooting of tradition.

Washington Irving Page -3- “Rip Van Winkle” represents the genre of “the marvelous,” for the hesitation of the fantastic is absent. Instead, we are convinced that new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the unusual phenomena. ( 7 ) Nevertheless, the story’s frame adds to its complexity. ” (Brodwin 54)

On the other hand, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” while flirting with the fantastic, the implausible, remains rooted in plausibility; in effect, heightening the story’s thematic impulses. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” functions as a complementary piece to “Rip Van Winkle,” since it is grounded in “the uncanny,” the genre which flanks “the fantastic” on the opposite side from “the marvelous. ” In this genre, the reader decides that the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described.

” (Brodwin 54) Such an oscillation between the implausible and the plausible illustrates a continuous effect in Irving’s fiction, one of “harmony of the opposites,” for Irving’s fiction as mentioned above bridges Old World and New, realism and unreality, romanticism and conservatism, melancholy and elation. It is this particular synthesis that provides the impetus for Irving’s profound and lasting influence on the American short-story form. For twenty-first century audiences, Irving’s most notable works occupy a similar contemporary position to the eventful position historically.

The stories offer a lens through which modern readers may access the archetypal myths and stories fo Old Europe while simultaneously probing the newness of the emerging American voice in fiction. Of interest not only for their unique blend of humor and horror, real and unreal, the stories represent a mode by which early America was understood, in literary terms, while being watched by and measured by European sensibilities.

Works Cited

Brodwin, Stanley, ed. The Old and New World Romanticism of Washington Irving. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986.

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