A Tour of the Pandemic: Irving Dodges Cholera Outbreak, Travels West to Oklahoma Territory

Oneil Myrie photo

–Photo by tyrese myrie from Pexels.

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Last week, I got caught up reading Washington Irving’s journals. It happens from time to time. I was digging for Irving’s thoughts on Columbus and political commentary to tackle conspiracy theories fluttering through Twitter.

Instead of picking up Columbus and political cues, however, notes about cholera in New York caught my attention. Upon returning from Spain, after having been abroad for seventeen years, Irving was touring surrounding areas of New York, and he was dodging disease in the process.

We’re familiar with Elizabeth Bradley’s discussion of Irving being quarantined as a youth in Tarrytown during the 1793 yellow fever outbreak, which may have inspired “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Because of Bradley’s assessment, I kept thinking about how the outbreak of 1832 may have inspired A Tour on the Prairies, published in 1835.

The 1832 cholera outbreak was another episode of disease hysteria during Irving’s lifespan. Flipping through Irving’s journals reminds us how often he and his contemporaries endured such outbreaks. Noting his commentary about cholera makes me want to review his thoughts on disease in A Tour on the Prairies, particularly where he records native illnesses. It’s quite likely that his comments on Native-Americans in that book came from these 1832 scenes from his journals prior to the prairies.

Rather than commenting too much today, I’ll throw out some quotes from Irving’s 1832 journal to let you see what I spied. In future blogs, I may have more to say after I think about these passages in unison with A Tour on the Prairies.

Here we go:

On Saturday, August 4, 1832, Irving writes: “Albany half deserted on a/c of the cholera” (p. 7).

Editor’s note on August 4 journal: “The plague prompted Latrobe to write that during ‘the second week in July, after being witnesses to the panic caused in New York by the outbreak of the cholera, we prepare to follow Mr. Irving to Boston’ (Rambler, I, 42); this same plague was still raging in New York in early August and caused WI’s early departure” (p. 7).

On Saturday, August 18, 1832, Irving writes: “pleasant drive to Oneida—The latter a small village on a pretty creek—fine wooded hills inhabited by the Oneida Indians—find the Count at Oneida (villa) Castle Stroll out with him to Indian village—Indian ill with fever. Gentlemanlike fellow—handsome squaw have picture of GWashtn.—worked mat—Squaw light—slender make [–] small feet & (arm) hands—Soft talk[.] walked up between cornfields to hill commanding a view over the rich plain” (p.16).

In response to Irving’s August 18 journal, “Leave Trenton Falls –1/2 past 7—in post wagon stop at Trenton,” a Twayne editor’s note states: “Whether the decision to change routes was made as a result of news he heard in Trenton or whether he had made the decision earlier is not clear; at any rate, WI decided that the cholera which was rapidly spreading through the northern part of the United States and had reached Utica, New York, imposed too great a threat and he wrote to Peter: ‘I shall leave that place out of my route …though hitherto I have never avoided the malady, nor shall I do so in the course of my tour; simply observing such genteel diet and habits of living as experience has taught me are best calculated to keep my system in healthful tone’ (PMI, III, 32)” (p. 15).

I haven’t done too much with 1832 cholera and the 1835 book, and I’m not sure it’s worthy of much further investigation. However, at the very least, any upcoming lecture I may give involving Tour on the Prairies needs adjustment. In addition to wanting to prove his patriotism after being abroad for seventeen years, Irving’s decision to go on a buffalo hunt out west may have also been prompted by the desire to escape from the cholera epidemic. Irving may have considered set-aside lands for natives in the Oklahoma Territory as an oasis from disease.

Until my next post on a Washington Irving Wednesday, please stay healthy.

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Works Cited, Consulted

Bradley, Elizabeth. “What ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ Tells Us about Contagion, Fear and Epidemics.” 30 October 2014, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-legend-sleepy-hollow-tells-us-about-contagion-fear-and-epidemics-180953192/. Accessed 22 July 2020.

Ross, Sue Fields. The Complete Works of Washington Irving, Journals and Notebooks vol. V. Twayne, 1986.

Wilford, John Noble. “How Epidemics Helped Shape the Modern Metropolis.” 15 April 2008, https://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/15/science/15chol.html. Accessed 22 July 2020.

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Feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a thoughtful reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays. If things get hectic and other jobs and responsibilities take precedence over author society business, my email responses might get backlogged, and therefore be delayed by weeks or months. However, I will eventually get around to reading and responding to all messages, most likely on Wednesdays.

Published in: on July 22, 2020 at 2:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Headless Horseman Considerations for the Washington Redskins

selective focus close up photo of brown wilson pigskin football on green grass

Photo by Jean-Daniel Francoeur on Pexels.com

 

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Several ideas for blogs have been swirling through my brain, most notably Irving’s connections with Alexander Hamilton and wild theories about Irving’s biography on Christopher Columbus. It never ceases to amaze me how relevant Washington Irving can be.

Despite other writing plans, this morning as I was checking social media, one post struck my fancy. Jazz Funkenstein, with a Twitter descriptor of “Not gonna tweet about the Loch Ness Monster, but he/she is still very on my mind,” writes: “The Redskins should change their name to the Washington Irving’s and have their mascot be a headless horseman. That would be badass.”

Another hessians

On behalf of the Irving Society, I liked and retweeted the post, and didn’t really think too much about the Washington Irvings and a D.C. horseman. That is, until an hour or so later, and then I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

I’m not suggesting that an NFL team take Jazz Funkenstein’s idea to heart, nor do I expect anyone involved in this decision to read my blog, but I would like to highlight a few quirky coincidences for Washington Irving scholars and fans. If Tracy Hoffman owned the Redskins franchise, we’d certainly consider the possibility of the Washington Hessians. Here are some reasons why.

First off, Washington Irving was a diplomat in his later years, serving as Ambassador to Spain, and he spent considerable time in Washington, D.C. Scholars have Irving’s journals with thoughts and notes from his visits. We also know as a young boy, he met George Washington in New York, a reminder that the first capital was in New York, not in the District of Columbia.

And that leads to a second point: Columbia. Too often Washington Irving is solely credited for making Columbus famous in America. The District of Columbia reminds us that America considered Columbus long before Irving wrote his famous biography about him.

Thirdly, according to a city proclamation, Irving, Texas, was named after Washington Irving. And Dallas Cowboys fans know that Irving, Texas, is also the former home of the Dallas Cowboys. That’s an interesting circle to consider. If the Redskins borrowed a mascot associated with the former home of the Dallas Cowboys: well, that would be an interesting twist to their rivalry.

Lastly, we should remember that Irving wrote A Tour on the Prairies about his adventure to the Oklahoma Territory, and he wrote two other western narratives, too. He romanticizes Native-Americans, and we must recognize this, but his empathy for their plight and harsh criticism of American policy toward them should also be noted.

Some scholars think of Irving as our gentleman writer who spent an extraordinary amount of time abroad, and such an assessment is correct. However, upon his return to America in the 1830s, he headed westward and wrote of his experiences there. This was a major shift in his body of writing. You can’t fully understand his life’s work without knowing about his western narratives.

So there you have it: a handful of thoughts for a headless horseman mascot in Washington, D.C. I’ll try to stay posted on this matter and get back with you in the future.

Until my next post on a Washington Irving Wednesday, please stay healthy.

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Feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a thoughtful reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays. If things get hectic, my email responses might get backlogged for awhile, so be patient with me. I eventually get around to reading and responding personally to all messages, most likely on Wednesdays.

 

Published in: on July 8, 2020 at 8:24 pm  Comments (2)  

Washington Irving at the Center of 2020: What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Washington_Irving_and_his_Literary_Friends_at_Sunnyside

By Christian Schussele (16 April 1824 – 1879) – Flickr, Photographer: cliff1066, 26 August 2008, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7361478

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

For the past two semesters in my American Literary Cultures classes, I’ve launched the first week of lectures with this famous painting of Irving and other outstanding writers of his day.

In honor of the 200th anniversary of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” I began my course with these two short stories. After Irving, we moved back into the 1600s with writers such as Mary Rowlandson, and we finished with contemporaries like Sandra Cisneros and Toni Morrison.

Over the past several weeks, as I’ve been trying to think of something useful to say on this Washington Irving Society platform, the Sunnyside painting keeps coming to mind. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I’ve found this to be true for the Sunnyside painting. What might normally take me fifteen or twenty minutes to set up in a lecture can be said by flashing this one painting, telling students it represents American writers, and asking them: “What’s wrong with this picture?”

They quickly tell me these writers are all white men, and it shakes some of them, I think for the first time, into the reality of the white narrative we’ve all been given. What comes next in the class discussion is the kind of discussion, it seems to me, we need to have in larger contexts. What would a better representation of American writers be, and what would we like it to be? What does America currently look like, and what’s our grand vision for the future?

If I were a skillful painter and if I were an expert on contemporary American literature, my first instinct would be to repaint an updated version of the Sunnyside painting, detailing a female of color at the center, surrounded by a diverse group of American writers currently in vogue. As the recent phenomenon of recreating old family photos has taken hold of us during this pandemic, I have a vision of this painting being recreated with a better representation of America’s current writers.

But after thinking things over, as an expert on Early American Literature and Washington Irving, I’m pretty sure my first instinct is off-base.

Should we instead keep some of these old writers like Irving in our “new painting” and add more diverse writers to the template? On the other hand, instead of reimagining this painting or adding to it, should we delete such scenes from our memory and start afresh?

America has some things to figure out: as we work through the hurtful past and repair current injustices, we also need to think about the future. As I’ve often said, I’m stuck in the past when it comes to scholarship, so brainstorming about the future of American literature and America is tough for me.

I have taken several weeks off from blogging and Washington Irving Wednesdays for a number of reasons: eye strain after an online semester, computer monitor flashing like a disco light, and two lengthy episodes of no Internet service. I was making plans to return in June after a late-May getaway for my birthday. But after May 25, my Irving blogs seemed unimportant. After George Floyd’s tragic death, I decided it would be better for me to listen for awhile, rather than jump into a conversation about Washington Irving. I also recognize that my fatigued mindset pales in comparison to the hurt many Americans are experiencing today. 

At our last Washington Irving Society panels in 2019 at the American Literature Association conference in Boston, we heard from scholars who brought compelling and thoughtful commentary about race in Irving’s writing. If you are such a scholar, and would like to use this space to discuss your research, please let me know. We would be happy to open up this forum to more guest bloggers. 

After checking on our Twitter feed, I noted several tweets about Washington Irving’s treatment of Columbus. Every year on Columbus Day, I have opportunity to address the misinformation spread about Irving, and I attempted to address comments made recently.

All of my exchanges were productive. Along with pointing out errors, I also thanked people for their consideration of research in light of current debates and let them know we weren’t trying to defend Columbus, but only directing people to Irving’s texts for further insight. If such discussions continue, we might want to address that topic, too, in some blogs. If you’ve been researching Irving and Columbus and would like to share in a blog or post, please let me know and feel free to add to the conversation on social media.

Until another Washington Irving Wednesday, please take care of yourselves and stay healthy.

According to Wikipedia, here’s the key to the painting of “Washington Irving and his friends at Sunnyside,” from left to right. I bulleted them for your easy perusal. Wikipedia gave them in paragraph form:

  • Henry T. Tuckerman (1813-1871)
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
  • William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870)
  • Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790-1867)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864)
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
  • Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806-1867)
  • William H. Prescott (1796-1859)
  • Washington Irving
  • James Kirke Paulding (1778-1860)
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
  • William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)
  • John Pendleton Kennedy (1795-1870)
  • James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)
  • George Bancroft (1800-1891)

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Feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays. If things get hectic, my email responses might be a few weeks in the future, but I will eventually get around to reading and responding.

Published in: on June 25, 2020 at 12:47 pm  Comments (1)  

Clicking with Irving: Future Digital Archives Keep Me Moving

pink mouse by pixel

–Photo by pexels.com

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

During these past few months of quarantine, resources readily available to us online have become increasingly important. One of the reasons why I study Washington Irving–one reason I stay motivated–is the lack of high quality digital resources.

Author society work is important because we need better digital resources for Washington Irving in the future.

Oh, how I wish I’d put together some excellent electronic scholarly editions of Irving’s work! During this pandemic, I realize how valuable quality texts, readily available online, are to us all.

Washington Irving Society members have talked about a good Irving anthology, and we’ve even had panels, and I’ve given papers, on “Irving and the Archives,” yet here we are years later without much accomplished in this area.

Several years ago, I had undergraduate English majors working on electronic scholarly editions for the texts they were studying. I stopped doing the assignment because one too many students said they preferred a basic academic literary analysis. They thought it would be more useful to their future success.

The thoughts of recent grads, some who now teach, may have changed over the past few months, if their perspective hadn’t already shifted when they entered the work force. What my students this semester would have given for thoughtful critical editions produced by Baylor Bears who came before them!

It has been suggested to me several times that the Washington Irving website be a digital hub for Washington Irving research. We should provide digitized texts of his writing and scholarly electronic publications about his writing.

Agreed!

Any volunteers?

I’m teasing you. Well, sort of. I’ll start small today. I’m creating a link on this website called Digital Irving. May this link flourish into something meaningful as we realize the importance of an online presence for Washington Irving.

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CB picture 2019

Until next week, stay healthy! And please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also try to update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays. When the semester gets crazy, my responses might be pushed into the future, but I’ll probably respond on some Wednesday nevertheless.

Published in: on May 6, 2020 at 10:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Corona Babies, Emerging Irving Scholars: Potential Outcomes from 2020

photo of girl sitting on sofa while using tablet

–Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

We joke about a baby boom after couples “shelter in place,” but I’m wondering who else might emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Might we have a scholarly boom?

Is it possible that ten or twenty years from now, Washington Irving scholars extraordinaire will credit this time period for changing the trajectory of their lives?

This thought may seem a little out there, but it’s not that far-fetched. Turning points in my life can’t be attributed to pandemic, but they were often times of “quarantine.”

I’m stir crazy about right now, and I’ll readily admit that. But I usually view being alone to write and study and research as a treat rather than a punishment. So how did I get this way?

Though the answer is more complicated than I’m about to present, let me throw out two incidences which formed my bookish ways.

First off, in sixth grade, my parents moved me out of private school and into public school. I was so far ahead that my teacher often sent me to the library. She gave me projects to complete after I finished my normal daily work. I spent many hours in the library and learned to appreciate my quiet time there. I can still recall unrolling a gigantic, yellow scroll, jam-packed with my drawings and fun facts found in the library, during our unit about ancient civilizations.

Secondly, after graduating from college, while on the job market, I had so much time on my hands that I started reading “great books” because I finally had time to read them. I can still remember crying through David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Having that extra time to read and enjoy the reading—well, it did something to me.

In the past few weeks, I’m noticing a shift in my students. English majors and non-English majors alike are valuing the literature in ways I never expected. Having the extra time to actually do the reading and enjoy it, rather than skimming through, is unprecedented. They’re typically juggling very busy spring schedules with reading for my class.

I’m not saying that all business majors will switch to English Literature, nor am I saying all pre-med students will now minor in creative writing. But I do think students, of all ages, will emerge from 2020 with a new sense of who they are and what they value. And some may learn, for the first time, the joy of contemplation, thinking, researching, reading, and writing.

We could easily have more academics on our hands in the future, and let’s hope some of them find purpose in Washington Irving studies.

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Until next week, stay healthy! And please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to all Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also do my best to update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays.

Published in: on April 22, 2020 at 1:51 pm  Comments (1)  

Mona Lisa in a Selfie World: Rebooting Our Appreciation for Washington Irving, Leonardo DaVinci, the Arts

mona lisa with face mask

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

BY TRACY HOFFMAN
President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

This morning, I’m thinking about places I traveled in 2019 and into 2020 before we were grounded: Paris, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Houston. I even made my annual Texas trips to Galveston and Palo Duro Canyon. And I’m thankful for getting away when I did.

One thing that struck me at the Louvre was how visiting the Mona Lisa has changed. I’ve visited previously, even rushed groups of students through the exhibits, but the last time I went, we took digital cameras. The iphone had not yet arrived.

What saddened me in May 2019 was the whole Mona Lisa experience. The museum was packed, but the Louvre is always packed during high season. I kept telling people in my tour group that Mona Lisa would be worth the wait:

“She’s worth all the fuss,” I told them. “Her eyes still follow you behind the bullet-proof glass.”

But after seeing the Mona Lisa spectacle, I had to apologize to my friends for leading them astray. They were disappointed, and so was I.

People were not mesmerized by Mona Lisa’s eyes. Instead, they were fixated on getting the perfect selfie. Their backs were to her. I was shocked. Shocked, I say!

Mona Lisa was different. The lighting was bad, and I couldn’t get near her. I couldn’t stand and stare and see if her eyes would follow me. A sea of selfie crazies blocked my entire view of the painting.

I didn’t take a Mona Lisa selfie. In fact, I didn’t take any pictures of the scene. I didn’t want to remember it, but this experience has stayed with me. All I can see in my mind’s eye are the hundreds of self-absorbed people in front of me.

Months after the Paris trip, when I visited Washington Irving’s Sunnyside home in October, I was happy that we were told “no pictures” inside the house. Visitors focused on what we saw, rather than on getting perfect selfies. And maybe, since the Louvre is under construction and times are different, some adjustments might be made as to how the art is viewed.

I want a line for the Mona Lisa–like lines we now have at grocery stores. I want everybody spaced at least six feet apart. I want only a certain amount of people allowed to enter her space. I want early morning hours, perhaps for those who don’t need selfies. Maybe I’m asking too much.

Yes, I’m guilty of taking selfies, too. We all are. (Well, everybody except my parents and a handful of others who still have flip phones.) I’ve even taken selfies in front of other art work, even though I didn’t throw in the towel at the Mona Lisa. The world has changed. We can’t go back to “the good ‘ole days” before iphones.

But I do hope we figure out a few things while we’re home alone. As people talk about how we’ll never take classrooms and restaurants and gyms and churches and birthday parties and shopping malls and friends and family and more for granted, I hope we also reconsider our ways with the arts.

May we reboot our appreciation for what’s important, including our favorite paintings such as the Mona Lisa and our favorite writers such as Washington Irving. The cliché can still happen: we can have clearer vision in 2020 if we’ll refocus our attention.

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Until next week, stay healthy! And please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to all Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays.

07-24-18 Cell Phone 521

Here I am at The Modern art museum in Fort Worth, Texas, getting my selfie with some Takashi Murakami art work. –Photo by Tracy Hoffman

Published in: on April 8, 2020 at 3:08 pm  Comments (1)  

Happy Birthday, Washington Irving!

Cake from Spring 2019

Washington Irving birthday cake served in Dr. Hoffman’s 2019 classes. –Photo by Tracy Hoffman

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Published in: on April 3, 2020 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  

“Toast and Post” Celebration Scheduled for Washington Irving’s Birthday

If you’re interested in celebrating Washington Irving’s birthday tomorrow (Friday, April 3, 2020), several people will be posting pictures of their toasts to him. The event is sponsored by the Irving’s Heritage Society, the historical society in Irving, Texas.

The Heritage Society is asking folks to “Toast the 237th Birthday of Washington Irving” at 5 p.m. and post a picture on your Facebook page or on the Irving Heritage Society’s Facebook page. Here’s the link:

https://www.facebook.com/170447793061890/photos/a.170463193060350/2540037796102866/?type=3&theater

Tracy Hoffman, the president of the Washington Irving Society, was scheduled to make a big toast to Washington Irving in New York this Saturday night. After the Saturday symposium and the closing dinner, they were to have birthday cake and a toast. The event was canceled because of COVID-19.

Published in: on April 2, 2020 at 7:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

No Joke: You’re One Class Short of an English Degree

IMG_3412

A view of the Hudson during an October 2019 visit to Sunnyside. Photo by Tracy Hoffman

 

BY TRACY HOFFMAN

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Today, April 1, 2020, I was scheduled to be on a plane for New York. I was to speak at a symposium honoring the 200th anniversary of The Sketch Book.

Instead, I’m “sheltering at home,” keeping office hours. Rather than briefly escaping Texas for an East Coast adventure, I’m posting assignments, grading electronic papers, and messaging with my students. Chances are I’d be grading papers and messaging with students on a plane, too, but I’d be adding some new excitement to my regular routine.

Students keep telling me on their reading responses, “the party’s over.” I feel that way, too. In addition to the New York trip, I was scheduled to visit San Diego and Cabo this spring. All three trips–canceled.

Washington Irving’s birthday is Friday, April 3. My classes had planned to have a giant sheet cake with Irving’s pretty picture on it–an event I always plan with my classes. We can’t do that. We will do something to celebrate, but we won’t have our cake.

4-13-18 by Sarah Ford Pic One

Washington Irving birthday cake for 2018 spring classes  Photo by Tracy Hoffman

Rather than continuing with my pity party, I want to share a nugget with you. And I’m hoping to bring this new idea full circle with my original thoughts.

I’ve been working on a list of reasons why I research Washington Irving, since so many people ask me this question, and I want to share one with you today.

One of the reasons I study Washington Irving is because I was one class shy of an English degree.

After already graduating several years prior, I received a letter from my undergraduate institution informing me that I was one class away from an English degree. That was too tempting of a carrot to ignore, so I spent one summer session taking the one class. A few years later, I completed a master’s in English, and then quickly moved into a Ph.D. program at Baylor, where I earned a Ph.D. in English.

But until I received that letter, I had no intention of pursuing English studies. Washington Irving was not on my radar screen. My focus had always been journalism, but my perspective changed after taking the one remaining English class. The bottom line: I would not be researching Washington Irving today, nor would I be writing this blog, had it not been for that one letter–from out of the blue.

Here’s my spin. I think we humans make the best plans we can, knowing what we know. But sometimes those plans get interrupted. When it’s crucial to our destiny, I think God moves things in a different direction.

You might call such situations luck or serendipity; opportunity meets preparation. Regardless of our various vantage points, we all recognize these life-changing episodes which change the trajectory of our lives. We’re in such a pivotal moment.

I’ve lived long enough, experienced enough life-altering shifts, to know we’ll get on the other side of this. When I think about what previous generations experienced–including Washington Irving who survived pandemic, the loss of a fiancé, and bankruptcy—and how their lives were completely interrupted by events out of their control, it reminds me to settle down, buckle up, and remember that this moment in history will pass. Sunnier days, along dramatically new paths, await us.

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Until next week, stay healthy! And please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to all Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays.

CB picture 2019

Published in: on April 1, 2020 at 10:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Washington Irving: Mary Shelley’s Last Man?

last man

BY TRACY HOFFMAN

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Last Washington Irving Wednesday, instead of blogging, I drove from Fort Worth to Waco and back, about 200 miles, to gather my things quickly from the office.

In addition to pandemic, we were also dealing with an impending spring storm last Wednesday in Texas, so I was trying to get back to the Dallas-Fort Worth area before strong winds, hail, and more were scheduled to hit.

I could only grab the essentials at my Baylor office to tote back to Fort Worth, where I have been “sheltering.” I cleared out hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, bottled water, and coffee stashes. I packed up student papers, notes for two research projects, and books—as many books as I could fit into my suitcases.

Ironically, the first book I thought of was not a textbook, nor was it a Washington Irving read. I did grab those, but I knew I’d remember to take them. Instead, I kept telling myself, “Do not forget Mary Shelley’s Last Man.”

I’m guessing few Washington Irving scholars have read the novel, although I would imagine most, if not all, Mary Shelley scholars know it.

I’ve given talks about this book and its connections to Washington Irving, though I haven’t published an article on it. Maybe I will, now.

The Last Man was the first book that came to mind when I started thinking about literature and pandemic. The story is about the last man to survive on earth, after a plague takes out everyone else.

In discussing Washington Irving’s relationship with Mary Shelley, I’ve argued that she influenced his Tales of a Traveller, and he influenced her Last Man. I’ve also presented the idea that Irving could have easily been the last man Shelley pursued before settling into a single life. Both Irving and Shelley remained single until their deaths, Shelley passing before Irving.

I’m not sure how important it might be to find traces of Irving in Shelley’s book, but for Irving studies, it’s important to know she influenced him–because Tales of a Traveller was a failure!

It was dark, depressing, offensive, the third in his trilogy of sketch books. This one book changed the trajectory of his writing, and if Shelley influenced his writing for ill, then perhaps he blamed her for his floundering career. That could be one reason he rejected her advances.

I’ve scoured The Last Man, looking for traces of Washington Irving, and I plan to pick up the task again, in light of all that’s happening.

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Until next week, stay healthy! And please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. If you need a reply, please message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to all Washington Irving Society-related email on Wednesdays, and I also update the WIS page on Washington Irving Wednesdays.

Published in: on March 25, 2020 at 5:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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