illustrated outline of a person's head with a red thumbprint on the forehead with an outline of the devil behind

The Devil and Tom Walker

by Washington Irving

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Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 225

Though the "The Devil and Tom Walker" has become one of Irving's most famous stories, it received a lackluster response when it was published in Tales of a Traveller in 1824. Darrel Abel remarks in American Literature: Colonial and Early National Writing that this collection of Irving's stories was ''one of his poorest ... a batch of hack-work pieced together" in an attempt to use "the German materials he had been accumulating." One of the original reviews, quotes Abel, attacked Irving personally, calling him "indisputably feeble, unoriginal and timorous." Irving was hurt by these accusations, particularly because they came from British writers, for whom he had great esteem and whose style he had tried to emulate. In retrospect, Eugene Current-Garcia says in Studies in Short Fiction that the story "foreshadows the best of Hawthorne's fictional exposure of Yankee shrewdness and Puritan hypocrisy." Current-Garcia also credits Irving for helping to develop the genre of the short story: "If he did not actually invent the short story, he had indeed set the pattern for the artistic recreation of common experience in short fictional form." By the mid-twentieth century, with the critics' adverse reaction to Tales of a Traveller long faded, opinion had solidly changed in Irving's favor. William Hedges wrote in Washington Irving: An American Study 1802-1832 that "The Devil and Tom Walker" is one of Irving's best works.

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Essays and Criticism