The chapter goes about one of the first American professional literary men Washington Irving, who managed to attract European audience. He was known as biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century.
Though primarily he was more of a nonfiction writer, his works contain a lot of good-humored and entertaining moments. However, Irving was criticized by contemporary essayists for only copying masterpieces of the British literature instead of creating something new. In his “English Writers on America” he made an attempt to find interconnection and trace influence of British and American cultures. In the ensuing controversy about American creation of its own literature or imitation of European models, Irving takes a position of adjusting already existing ideas according to the needs of American society.
Washington Irving is best known for his two Sketch Book stories “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. However, the strongest and most diverting work which came from his pen is “A History of New York from the Beginnings of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty”. It is one of the Irving’s earlier imaginative writings distinguished for its sharp and caustic style.
It is narrated by the fictional Dietrich Knickerbocker, a cranky old codger of Dutch-American origin. Although it seems to be an authentic text, the History is comical, intentionally incorrect description of New York's past, more of a jest than an actual academic document.
Much of the book goes about the rift between the old Dutch settlers and the British who replaced them in the city. By means of ironical comments about the Dutch, Irving manages to recognize the sense of inner exile of his narrator.
Washington Irving highlights a theme of a sleep and reprimands American loss of memory, resistance to change in his early writings. Due to his personal experience, he tends to see a deeper implication in it, willing to stop the flow of time and all the consequences it has.
In the second half of the book, Irving attempts to exemplify historical events, though his endeavor is not distinctly understood. His History is noted for being a mixture of a comic burlesque of events. Accurately recorded historical facts are interrelated with local legends and tales. Showing true feelings of Dutch inhabitants, Irving encourages other historians to search through unknown documents and reveal the real state of things. The author claims that his aim is to connect the whole populace with the help of good humor and companionship.
At the end of the book, a melancholic and sad mood is created, which contributes greatly to the story of loss, decline and resentment against disrespect for the past. It is explained by failures in the author’s personal life. While working on A History of New York Irving intended to marry Matilda Hoffman. However, they were never to be together as she died of pneumonia. He remained a lifelong bachelor, having never been seriously involved with a woman again. It helps to understand that A History of New York is one of those books that incite a reader to notice some hidden facts, to recognize the real author by entering in his world of feelings and thoughts, by reveling the true elusive nature of Washington Irving.
Contemporary reviews approve of Irving’s success in the nineteenth century. However, critical reactions of the author’s legacy have been changing during the past two centuries considering sometimes inadequate character of his works. In general, Washington Irving is classified as one of the most prominent American men of letters, who is also famous for the establishment of an American style of writing. Besides, he is well-known for being a skillful biographer and chronicler of American history and culture.
A History of New York’s popularity was due to Irving’s engaging style, his exquisite ability to combine the facts of historical records with invented characters, his unique sense of humor.
For years after the publication of A History of New York Irving wrote little, mainly editing a magazine and being engaged in the practice of law. However, the importance of his works in the history of American literature cannot be overestimated. Besides his literary masterpieces, he contributed greatly to the development of American culture. Washington Irving must be remembered and worshiped by future generation by continuing to read and appreciate his legacy.
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