31 Days of Washington Irving in Progress

President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Since this is the first Wednesday in October, the busiest month for Irving on social media, I decided it was time to post on a Washington Irving Wednesday.

Because “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” lends itself to Halloween and because Columbus Day falls on October 11, and Irving wrote a biography about him, more people comment about Washington Irving during this time than in April, his birthday month.

We’re posting #31daysofwashingtonirving on Twitter. If you haven’t checked Twitter lately, be sure to give the daily quote a like, retweet, and/or comment. I’ve been experimenting with Canva, so I’m trying to make tiny improvements on Twitter. We have a simple, black and orange, moving image to announce the October theme.

I would like #31daysofwashingtonirving to be a constructive tool for dealing with any negativity about Washington Irving with regard to his writing of Columbus. By posting quotes from his tremendous collection of writing, we can give a more balanced approach to how Washington Irving is viewed and how he viewed the world. He wrote about the mistreatment of Native-Americans and the abuses of Columbus, while simultaneously viewing Columbus as a bridge between the Old World and the New.

Even though we’re moving along on Twitter, Instagram is another story. This past week, I started a Washington Irving Society account on Instagram, yet I don’t find many author societies in that space. Of course, scholars tend to be wordy, as opposed to picture-oriented, so we may need to give links to other really good Instagram feeds, such as those posting pictures from Sleepy Hollow, instead of trying to do something ourselves.

If you’re an Instagram guru and interested in helping out the Washington Irving Society, let me know. We may give you the reigns of the account, or advertise an account you’re already running. John Anderson has been monitoring and posting in Facebook for quite some time, but I’m still working the Twitter account, and dabbling with Instagram.

If you didn’t catch my last blog post, we have 501C3 status. After consulting with treasurer Kirsten Stine, I have decided to wait until 2022 to open a checking account and begin accepting dues for membership. If we started moving before January, I would front $1500 or so to open a checking account, and then I wouldn’t want to claim the write-off on my taxes because it would then create more red tape for the WIS.

Instead, we’re planning to begin accepting memberships via check in January, use those checks to open a checking account, and hopefully, we won’t need a big chunk of money from one person to get on track financially. A $10 annual membership would help us keep the website moving and build funds for future conferences. Once we have a checking account set up, we could then, of course, take electronic membership dues.

If you work with another author society and have useful advice on how to best set up finances, please reach out! I’m open to advice for best practices.

Finally, we’re gearing up for the American Literature Association (ALA) conference in Chicago. The CFP should go out soon. We already have one round table on American Hauntings, left over from ALA 2020, but after I consult with our vice-president Sean Keck, who oversees conference panels at ALA, we’ll get the CFP posted here on the website and in our social media outlets.

I’ll try to get back to blogging at the conclusion of our #31daysofwashingtonirving to let you know how it went. Perhaps if all goes well, we can do #25daysofwashingtonirving to celebrate his Christmas stories in December.

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Feel free to add to the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, or on this page. Comments are very much welcomed.

Published in: on October 6, 2021 at 1:53 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. By a coincidence, I’m re-reading Irving’s Life of Columbus at the moment and just finished the chapter in which Columbus sends his letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, proposing he send Carib natives to Spain in exchange for livestock to support his failing colony. Irving writes of Columbus’s “pernicious tendency, written in that mistaken view of natural rights prevalent at that day, but fruitful of much wrong and misery in the world..[In] recommending the enslavement of the Caribs, Columbus thought he was obeying the dictates of his his conscience, when he was in reality listening to the incitement of his interests…” There are many places in the Life where Irving is critical of Columbus’s decisions (‘cruel’ and ‘delusional’ are just two adjectives used) but, by modern standards, probably not enough. This was a “heroic” biography, written in in the first third of the 19th century, but in a style that makes it at times feel more like the 18th Century. Certainly such an approach toward Columbus now would be unthinkable. We know too much. I have read this book perhaps half a dozen times in my life, and each time it has been necessary for me to put aside my own beliefs and my own horror at events so calmly laid out, and try to put the book into some kind of perspective. As a modern, progressively minded person, this can be difficult for even an inveterate Irving admirer as myself.

    It’s hard to get away from the reality that Irving’s Columbus is a tough sell for modern readers. I can re-read it because I love all of Irving’s writing and am willing to make allowances, as I do for other early writers. In this case, if I were of Native American descent I might not enjoy that luxury. It’s impossible to refute the negativity leveled at this book in a world where the horrors of colonialism are so well known and Columbus himself is the representative face of that calamity. I’ve recommended and gifted Irving books many times, but this one has its own special set of challenges. A lot of baggage comes with it: not just a multi-volume romantic historical biography, but Columbus, Ferdinand and Isabella, the Inquisition, the Moorish wars, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (only mentioned in passing in Irving’s book) and more. Even Shakespeare wrote what are known today as “problem” plays. It doesn’t mean they are not performed. It may be that Life of Columbus is one of Irving’s “problem books.”


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