Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The fun of reading a parody is heightened by acquaintance with the material being burlesqued. Although Washington Irving confessed, in the “Author’s Apology” added to the edition of 1848, that his idea had been to parody Samuel L. Mitchell’s A Picture of New York (1807), a knowledge of Mitchell’s book is not necessary to the enjoyment of Irving’s work. The parody is only part of the humor of A History of New York, By Diedrich Knickerbocker, which was originally begun as a collaboration between Irving and his older brother, Peter, and had the original title A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty.
The work reveals the interest of its twenty-five-year-old author in history, customs, and etymology; the burlesquing of several literary styles—his notebook supplies the names of some of the authors parodied, names now largely forgotten—reveals Irving as a literary critic. Irving was in the process of finishing the book when his fiancé, Matilda Hoffman, died suddenly. At first he was too stunned to continue working, then he returned to the manuscript as an anodyne for his grief and finished it quickly. About the same time, he conceived the idea of ascribing the authorship to an imaginary and eccentric Dutchman. The hoax was elaborately contrived and began when the public press printed a story about the disappearance of a man named Diedrich Knickerbocker. A short time later,...
(The entire section is 1189 words.)
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