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“I am always at a loss at how much to believe of my own stories.”(“Washington Irving”). Washington Irving is one of the greatest of the Romantics, writing many well known stories that we all know and love came from this man. Irving led an interesting life with many honors and titles, from all over the world. He did many other things other than write, although writing is what ended up giving him his name.
Irving led a very interesting life, and a long one for the time period too. He was born on April 3rd 1783, in New York City. He was born to a wealthy merchant father, and the granddaughter of a clergyman, and was the youngest of eleven children. As a child he stayed in school until he was about fifteen years old, and then proceeded on to work for a law firm to learn about law. Not to long there after he became interested in writing. In 1809, at the age of twenty six Washington left the law practice to engage in his true passion of writing. Although he had been published prior to this in 1803 in the way of newspaper editorials in a newspaper that was edited by his brother in law, his more well known works didn’t come along until a bit later. His first real work was a book titled “A History of New York: From the Beginning of the World to the end of the Dutch Dynasty” that was published in 1809, the year he left the law field. Irving wrote the book using a pen name of Deidrich Knickerbocker, which is where the New York Knicks get their name from. Irving’s family owned a hardware store, and soon needed someone to run a branch in England. So in 1815 Irving left New York for Europe, where he would remain until 1832. While he was in England Irving wrote his most famous collection, “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.” In 1820. This was a collection of his most famous works, including the two most well known: “ The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “ Rip Van Winkle”. He also wrote “Bracebridge Hall” in 1822. When he returned to New York in 1832, he was openly welcomed as the very first American author to acquire international fame (“Washington Irving”). From 1836 till 1859 Irving lived at the Sunnyside Manor in Tarrytown.
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In Irving’s writing he displays a true vision of Romanticism. He was not one to make his characters seem ideal, instead he show his reader who the character truly is, flaws and all. This is one of the things that has made his work so popular; as many writers tend to make their characters seem unrealistic, or too good to be true. When you read Irving’s stories you can see how much he truly does love nature, simply by the settings in which his stories take place. Although his works are very different from other writers of his time, he shows a great deal of imagination in his writing and is able to add a bit of mystery and surprise to all his works. Since he does use good amounts of detail, Irving is able to in essence, paint the perfect picture (Mead) of his characters in his stories.
One of his most popular works was “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” which was published in 1820. This work was contained in “The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon Gent” and is one of the best examples of dark romanticism. In this short story Irving goes depicts the main character, Ichabod Crane as “tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snip nose, so that it looked like a weathercock, perched upon his spindled neck, to tell which way the wind blew” (“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” Pg. 286). As one can tell, he definitely helps the reader to paint a picture of the character in their mind, although it is not one of an ideal man. This is one of the reasons that he is considered a dark romantic, he does not usually refer to nature or other things in a bright or happy way. In all of his works, Sleepy Hollow included, he refers to nature and the surroundings constantly. In Sleepy Hollow he often uses long descriptions at points of which any other author would not. As Ichabod Crane is returning to the farmhouse that he is residing in Irving describes the surroundings very vividly, “ the moan of the whip-poor-will from the hillside; the brooding cry of the tree-toad, the harbinger of the storm; the dreamy hooting of the screech owl, or the sudden rustling in the thicket of birds frightened from their roost. The fire-flies, too, which sparked most vividly in the darkest places, now and then startled him, as one of uncommon brightness would stream across his path; and if by chance, a huge blockhead of a beetle came winging his blundering flight against him.”(“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” pg. 288). Irving describes everything in the settings of his stories, from the ground to the skies, although not all of it is what one would think is an ideal place. He describes every detail about his characters, and settings including their flaws, making him a dark romantic. One of the other things that Irving does that makes him a dark romantic is that he adds mystery and surprise into all his work. In Sleepy Hollow he leaves it up to the readers mind whether or not Ichabod Crane was killed by the legendary ‘Headless Horseman’ or if he continued to live on. In my opinion Irving is one of the greatest dark romantics, because of the reasons I have previously mentioned.
All in all Irving led a very interesting and different life. He traveled frequently, and earned many awards in his time. His most famous works are still being reproduced today and even used in schools. Irving was an amazing writer and an interesting one too. Even still today many children and adults continue to discover his works for the first time, and most of them fall entranced into his work. As the very 1st American writer to actually make a living as a writer, he knew that literature was not all good, he once said “ the land of literature is a fairyland to those who view it at a distance, but, like all other landscapes, the charm fades on nearer approach, and the thorns and briars become visible.”. He is one of the first authors to finally say this, and tell others that writing and literature also has its flaws, and is not as good as many other authors portray it to be.
Bush, Sargent Jr. “ Irving, Washington.”2008. 20th Oct 2008
Mead, Walter Russell. “Washington Irving.” Ebsco. June 2008 146. Ebsco
Author, Unknown. “ Washington Irving.” Washington Irving 1783-1859. Books and writers.
2000 ©. 20th Oct 2008 http://kirjasto.sci.fi.wirving.htm.