Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Irving erected an elaborate facade for the book in which this story first appeared. Purporting to be the work of “Geoffrey Crayon, Gentleman,” The Sketch Book featured primarily literary “sketches” of the type popularized by Joseph Addison a century earlier and influenced writers as late as Charles Dickens. Irving’s sketches are chiefly travel essays of an American in England, written in a graceful, well-bred manner calculated to appeal to the English gentleman as well as his American readers. As a result, Irving became the first American literary man widely read abroad.
Irving further distanced himself from his narrative by means of a headnote alleging the story to be a posthumously discovered work of “Diedrich Knickerbocker, an old gentleman of New York” and a postscript to the effect that Knickerbocker himself had it from a “German superstition,” though Irving more or less retracts this suggestion by including a note reputed to be Knickerbocker’s own in which the old gentleman claims to have talked with the real Rip Van Winkle himself.
This sort of elaborate hocus-pocus was common in American fiction up to about the middle of the nineteenth century, and readers may compare Irving’s frame for this story with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s lengthy customhouse essay at the head of The Scarlet Letter (1850). Common to both works is a desire both for the freedom from any obligation to respect prosaic everyday...
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Dutch village. Unnamed village of Dutch settlers in New York that is the home of Rip Van Winkle, who sleeps in the woods for twenty years and then returns to the village. Rip’s twenty-year absence from the village gives Irving a chance to reflect and comment on changes that occurred in the United States between the period shortly before the American Revolution and the early years of the independent republic.
Irving first describes the village as one of “great antiquity,” founded by the original Dutch colonists who settled in New York. The village rests at the foot of the Catskill Mountains and seems to be a charming and quaint place. Its people are friendly and—except for the henpecked Rip—happy. When Rip escapes from his wife’s nagging, he plays with the children of the village and runs errands for all the goodwives. All the village dogs know him and greet him. The familiarity and friendliness of the village before Rip’s sleep is shown so that Irving can contrast it with Rip’s return from the mountain. When Rip returns from his long nap, children stare at him and mock him, and dogs bark at him.
Before Rip’s sleep, the village had a “busy, bustling, disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquillity.” Rip returns when an election is taking place, and villagers want to know for whom he is voting. The town’s former tranquillity has been usurped by the new politics. Rip eventually comes to grip...
(The entire section is 615 words.)
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bowden, Mary Weatherspoon. Washington Irving. Boston: Twayne, 1981. A general introduction to the work, including a chronology and an annotated bibliography. Bowden emphasizes the integrity of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., in which “Rip Van Winkle” first appeared, and suggests that Irving’s greatest literary accomplishment was his style.
Hedges, William L. Washington Irving: An American Study, 1802-1832. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965. Although Hedges believes that Irving reached an intellectual dead end by 1825, he asserts that in his greatest works, including “Rip Van Winkle,”...
(The entire section is 248 words.)