How is 'Rip Van Winkle' a romantic tale?

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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There are several ways in which ‘Rip Van Winkle’ can be accounted a romantic tale. In literature, the word ‘romantic’ can be used, in the broadest sense, to refer to any story or poem which deals with extraordinary events. ‘Rip Van Winkle’ revolves around the extraordinary event of an enchanted sleep.

Irving of course is consciously drawing on a fund of Germanic folklore in his presentation of this tale. This kind of supernatural material marks the story as a romantic text. It should be remembered that the story was written in the early nineteenth century, the period which saw the highwater mark of the great Romantic movement (Romantic with a capital R) in literature, most readily associated with the famous English poets such as Keats, Shelley and Coleridge. Such writers loved to draw on old fairytales and legends in their work, as Irving does here.

Another way in which ‘Rip Van Winkle’ is a romantic story is in the depiction of nature. Again, this was a favourite theme of the Romantic poets. The story opens with a portrayal of the Kaatskill mountains where Rip has his marvellous adventure.

They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country. Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical shapes and hues of these mountains.

This description, as we can see, emphasises the grandeur, the sublime quality of these great mountains, with use of words like ‘noble’, and ‘magical’. They are a suitable setting for unearthly events, far removed from the world of everyday.

A third romantic element in the story is the character of Rip himself. He appears somewhat solitary and much given to daydreaming, rather than applying himself to work and the everyday routine of maintaining family and home. This makes him all the more ripe, perhaps, for strange experiences. 

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