In general, I would not regard Irving as one of the most representative Romantic writers. The elements of Romanticism in his stories are present but are at times more incidental than central to his technique, and one could even judge the main thrust of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow ...
In general, I would not regard Irving as one of the most representative Romantic writers. The elements of Romanticism in his stories are present but are at times more incidental than central to his technique, and one could even judge the main thrust of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" as being somewhat of a throwback to the ironic and more low-key humor of the previous century. Nevertheless, Irving was of his time to the extent that the background of the story includes an emphasis on two typically Romantic symbols: nature and the past.
The description of the Hudson River valley is extensive and even a bit rapturous:
A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail, or tapping of a woodpecker, is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquility. ..
A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say the place was bewitched by a high German doctor during the early days of the settlement. ...
The apotheosis of Nature is indeed Romantic, but in Irving, it is overlaid with more humdrum specifics that partly neutralize its effect. Perhaps a more decisive element conveying the early nineteenth-century spirit is that the story looks back to a past—a "remote" period, though Irving humorously states it is only thirty years ago—in which the strange happenings he is about to relate are presumably the essence of an unreal fairy tale. This quality, that of a childlike dream of magical import, is typically Romantic. We see it later in the stories of Hawthorne, where meaning is conveyed by the placement of the events in a dark past: either the literal one of early New England or the indeterminate one of Aylmer's weird scientific experiments in "The Birthmark."
Irving employs this focus on nature, mystery, and the past, but "anchors" it with his humor and a wry cynicism about the actual meaning of the Headless Horseman's appearance. It is a quieter, more neutral following of the trends of his time than we see in his British and European contemporaries; his poetry is similar in this way to that of the young William Cullen Bryant. American writers were then still a bit isolated from the forefront of artistic developments.