History of the Text

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Publication, Narrative Style, and Influences: Washington Irving published “Rip Van Winkle” in his successful short story collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., published serially in 1819 and 1820. The stories are narrated by the fictional Geoffrey Crayon, who relates local beliefs and lore both in his own voice and as related by other sources.

  • Frame Narratives: The fictional persona of Geoffrey Crayon allowed Irving to comment on his own stories, acting both as narrator and compiler. A second layer of remove is included through the fictional historian Diedrich Knickerbocker, in whose papers “Rip Van Winkle” is said to have been discovered. A third layer of remove is Rip himself, whose story “was observed...to vary on some points every time he told it.”
  • Folkloric Influences: Washington Irving may have based his story on the folkloric motif of the “king in the mountain”—indeed, the story includes a note referencing “a little German superstition about the Emperor Frederick der Rothbart and the Kypphauser mountain.” The “king in the mountain” motif describes a hero or king who sleeps in a cave until they are called on to protect their country. Through the lens of this motif, Henry Hudson and his crew appear as guardians of the Catskill Mountains.
  • Irving also may have been influenced by Johann Nachtigal’s German folktale “Peter Klaus the Goatherd.” In the tale, Peter Klaus is searching for his goats when he runs into a group of knights playing a game. Peter is asked to help them and eventually drinks their alcohol. He falls into a deep sleep and awakens twenty years later.

Setting of “Rip Van Winkle”: Washington Irving’s short story “Rip Van Winkle” is set in a fictional village nestled at the foot of the “Kaatskill”—commonly called Catskill—Mountains. The Catskills are a part of the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States. They are situated northwest of New York City and west of the Hudson River. The Hudson River and the surrounding mountains, including the Catskills, were home to the Dutch colony of New Netherland from 1614 to 1674 before being ceded to the English.

The Hudson River is named after Henry Hudson, an English explorer. In 1609, under the employment of the Dutch East India Company, he sailed north along the coasts of what are now Delaware and New Jersey and up the Hudson River in search of a passage to Asia. On his following voyage, this time sailing for the English, mutineers set Hudson and several of his crew adrift in Hudson Bay. Hudson and the crew of his ship, Half Moon, appear as supernatural entities in Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle.”

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Significant Allusions