Washington Irving's ‘‘Rip Van Winkle’’ is one of the best-known short stories in American literature. That is to say, the character of Rip Van Winkle, the man who sleeps for twenty years and awakens to a greatly changed world and a long beard, is one of the best-known characters in American popular culture, widely recognized through his many appearances and references in books, movies, cartoons, and advertisements. The story was first published in 1819 in a collection called The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. The book was issued in installments in the United States and was so successful that Irving arranged for a British edition. This became the first book by an American writer to achieve international success. While many pieces from the collection have been forgotten, ''Rip Van Winkle'' has never gone out of print and is widely available in textbooks and anthologies, including the multivolume set The Complete Works of Washington Irving published by Twayne.
‘‘Rip Van Winkle’’ is based on German folk tales that Irving learned about through a lifetime of reading and years of travel in Europe. One of his goals was to give the United States, a new country, some of the same feeling of tradition that older nations had because of their traditional lore. For several of his stories Irving borrowed European plots, but transported them into American settings. In a humorous context, ‘‘Rip Van Winkle’’ deals with issues of politics, as he shows how the American Revolution changed one small village, and gender issues, as he shows the comical relationship between a lazy husband and a bad-tempered wife.
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