A Uniquely American Voice

Washington Irving

A Uniquely American Voice

Washington Irving 1783-1859

  • Considered one inventor of modern short story
  • Contributed to literature that is distinctly “American”
  • First writer able to support himself by writing alone

“Who Reads an American Book”
Sidney Smith, British Critic

  • “The Americans…have hitherto given no indications of genius[.] [T]hey are sprung from the same race with Bacon and Shakespeare and Newton…they have yet done marvelously little to assert the honor of such a descent.
  • “During the thirty or forty years of their independence, they have done absolutely nothing for the Sciences, for the Arts, for Literature, or even for the statesman-like studies of Politics or Political Economy.”

Irving and Poe help to discredit Smith

  • While the first American writers followed British models…
  • Irving published The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon in 1819
  • Irving’s essays and stories capitalized on American settings
  • Sleepy Hollow is an example of this

Irving’s Formula and Why it works

  • Takes Old World (European, German in particular) Legends and reworks them in American settings and with American themes
  • Irving’s audience had just declared their independence and were severed from their European heritage.
  • Irving’s writing created a new cultural identity and heritage for his readers

Irving’s Formula and Why it works

  • He was a painter and his eye for detail can be scene in the vivid descriptions in his stories

Irving and setting

“In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry Town”.

Irving introduces two character types

  • The hyper-masculine, tough guy (Brom Bones). The name for this type of strong, tough action hero is the B’hoy. It rhymes with Chips A-hoy.
  • Then there’s the Ichabod type—the 98lb weakling, bookish, intellectual.

Let’s cast some actors for Irving’s Stories

Brad Pit as Bram bones

DJ Qualls or Joel Moore as Ichabod

Disney’s Ichabod Crane

Scholars have noted that these types persist in literature and film to the present day

Look for these types the rest of the semester.