Washington Irving Essay

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A merchant’s son, born and raised in New York City, Washington Irving was writing satirical pieces for a local newspaper before he was twenty. It was not until he was thirty-seven, however, that he established himself as a professional author.. For years Irving halfheartedly pursued a career in law and business, while stealing as much time from work as possible for his writing. Only in 1818, with the bankruptcy of his brothers’ importing firm, on which he depended financially, did he risk authorship for a living. Two years later, however, the remarkable popularity of The Sketch Book made him a marketable commodity in both England and America, . From 1815 to 1832 Irving lived and traveled widely in England and on the European continent. Now much of his work shaped itself as a consciously American response to Old World culture. Seeking a large international audience, he became primarily a writer of short fiction and personalized sketches and essays. By 1820 he had become a partial convert to romanticism, exhibiting romantic interests in landscape, folklore, and the past. Subsequently as a historian and biographer, he was to focus on colorful drama, costumes. But though by temperament a dreamer, he lacked the high romantic’s faith in imagination. The undermining of common sense by illusion and the shattering of visions against an unyielding reality are persistent themes in his work, as in “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” With these nar-ratives (both from The Sketch Book) Irving is usually seen as having created the short story as a new genre, distinct from the moral or sentimental tale and tales of headlong action and gothic mystery. Ironically both stories, with their evocative American settings, were partly inspired by German folk motifs and composed in England. In his final years he continued to produce books and revised and published

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