Thinking about Irving in Light of 9/11

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

President of the Washington Irving Society

Washington Irving Wednesday fell on 9/11 last week. After starting the blog, deleting, starting again, and deleting once more, I decided not to post.

Last Wednesday for me started at the gym. Only one station was playing live coverage from September 11, 2001. I watched this one channel for a good hour while on an elliptical. I thought it was important to remember.

All of the stations came alive for the memorial service in New York, but they all cut off when the moment of silence started, except for this one station. Commercials, rape accusations, and the latest Apple news were more important than having a moment of silence. At least that was the situation in Texas. Perhaps stations in New York and elsewhere did something else.

Fortunately, my American Literary Cultures class last Wednesday met in the library for a research hunt, so I didn’t lecture. Students had to pick a topic of interest to investigate, and I did suggest 9/11 if that interested anyone. No student opted for my suggestion.

So, as an Early Americanist, an Americanist, a nineteenth-century scholar, a Washington Irving expert, and as an American, I’m left wondering how to respond to the apparent disinterest in the most monumental event of my young adulthood.

Are we scholars to blame?

On slow news days (and even on some busy news days), the media covers what creative people put out there. Are we too busy feeding on Facebook and Instagram, snapchatting and facetiming, to create original content about September 11?

Since I’m blogging for the Washington Irving Society, I also have to ask myself: Are Irving scholars to blame for whether people know and read Irving?

I wouldn’t be studying Irving today had it not been for 9/11. He wrote about topics of special interest to me: Islam and America’s past, to name a few.

And that’s how I felt last week.

This week, after giving myself time to cool off, I thought about my parents and their memories of the JFK assassination.

They were living in Dallas-Fort Worth, and they were dating. My dad dropped my mom off at the hair salon and forgot about her. That’s the memory they smile about when asked: “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?”

Ironically, local TV news stations broadcast the footage of JFK riding through the streets of Dallas on the day of his death. Of course, that’s in Texas, so it could be different elsewhere. It seems, then, that in Texas at least, people are more interested in seeing JFK film clips than 9/11 takes.

So maybe we can remember 9/11 in our own individual ways, rather than following what the media send or don’t send our way.

That’s the best I have for today. Next week, I’ll be back to chase another Washington Irving rabbit trail.

Until next time, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to post here on the site. You may also contact me at I try to answer emails and update the page on Wednesdays.

Published in: on September 18, 2019 at 6:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Washington Irving: The Father of American Literature?

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September 4, 2019

President of the Washington Irving Society

I began the Fall 2019 semester with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”—in both an undergraduate survey of Early American Literature and an entry-level American Literary Cultures class.

In truth, I’ve never taken this approach, though I’m aware other professors blaze the trail. I typically move chronologically, from the beginning.

As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of The Sketch Book and the Sleepy Hollow area of New York has focused on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” especially, I decided to start with 1819.

As we were finishing up “Sleepy” and “Rip,” and as I was feeding students more biographical information, an intriguing notion emerged in the upper-level survey class: concerns about the title historically given to Washington Irving: “The Father of American Literature.”

One of my students eloquently explained how labeling someone as “the father” of anything lends itself to putting everyone else who follows in boxes. The children must resemble the father in some way.

This student said someone more diverse should be the Father of American Literature.

Do most Americans have trouble with a white man being the father of things? Does anyone still call George Washington “the Father of the Country”?

I would be curious to know what other Washington Irving scholars think, and also what other literary societies think about the title. Should we “rewrite history” and name a more worthy individual? Should we abandon such titles altogether?

I will be checking back with my students on this question as we move through more Irving texts and other early texts. In the mean time, let me know what you think.

Recently, the WIS found a treasurer (which was almost like finding treasure!), so we will be making much-needed changes revamping our website and taking dues on the website. As we proceed, please help me consider branding (or re-branding) the organization. Would we want this mission statement:

The Washington Irving Society: A Community of Scholars Preserving the Legacy of the Father of American Literature?

Published in: on September 4, 2019 at 5:02 pm  Comments (3)  

What’s on Your Plate? Washington Irving’s “Tom Walker” Gives Us Food for Thought

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August 28, 2019

After reading about a particular situation in “The Devil and Tom Walker,” I am reminded of something from my childhood.

Out to dinner with my family, I came from a long day of cheerleading practice and was starving. I cleaned my plate within five minutes. My brother, on the other hand, was sick and missed football practice, so he barely touched his plate. I was still starving, so I asked him, “are you done eating?” He responded with a nod indicating that he was done. I then proceeded by asking him if I could then have the rest of his food. He denied me.

I was so angry. If he had no interest in his food, then why was he not going to share it with me? Angered by this, I told him I thought he was a selfish brat. That then led to a bickering fight. Because neither of us decided to display kindness to one another we both ended up resenting each other that night.

When Tom has an encounter with the devil, he cannot decide if he should find the treasure of Kidd the pirate or not. When Tom asks his wife and notices the excitement and joy it brings her, he decides not to look for it. Tom has so much resentment towards his wife that he would rather lose something to prevent her from gaining anything. The resentment Tom has towards his wife, from her previous actions, is what drives his irrational decision making.

I especially liked this part of the book because I was very intrigued from my observations of how people respond to they resent. But what causes resentment? Greed does.

Neither Tom Walker nor his wife want to nurture the relationship by acting kind to one another. Their greed and selfishness result in their resentment toward each other. Hiding possessions from one another, neither is willing to give back. Tom even feels gratitude toward the devil because he killed his wife, meaning the devil does something good for Tom by killing his wife.

So, what is my point in comparing family stories with one of Irving’s works? Simple. It is important to keep others’ feelings in perspective. After analyzing this, if I could go back in time and change the way I reacted to my brother, I would. I would have been more outside of my own needs, so I could remember his.

The reason my brother did not give me any of his leftovers is because he resented me. He was sick and missed football practice, so he wanted me to feel just as bad he did, starving. He would have given some of his food if he felt like I cared about his situation, and not just my hunger needs. Greed has such a rotting effect on our relationships. Greed leads us to resentment which, only leaves nothing on our plates.

Lizzie Darwin is a special guest blogger this week. In Spring 2019, Lizzie wrote this blog specifically for the Washington Irving Society page. She submitted the blog as an optional assignment for Dr. Tracy Hoffman’s 2304 American Literature class at Baylor University. This was not a formal paper assignment, but a casual blog response to the reading. Please feel free to leave comments about Lizzie’s response here on the website.

Published in: on August 28, 2019 at 6:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tim O’Brien: A Modern Day Washington Irving

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August 21, 2019


An overarching theme among many of Washington Irving’s works is that they are stories grounded in reality containing glimpses of fantastic or magical events and innuendos concerning war. This is characteristic of Rip Van Winkle’s magical events and nods to the American Revolutionary War, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow’s magical headless horseman soldier, and the controversy surrounding Washington Irving due to his novel Mahomet and His Successors and American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These themes are also overarching themes among the works of modern-day writer Tim O’Brien, who is most famous for his work The Things They Carried. This novel, just like many of Washington Irving’s books, consists of a collection of short-stories grounded in reality, concern an American war, and contain fantastic and magical events. In this way, many short stories written by Washington Irving and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried are written about similar events in a similar manner, but during a different historical era and time period. In other words, The Things They Carried is the modern-day version of Washington Irving’s short stories on war.

The topics and manner of writing is the same, but the perspective is new. Consequently, the writing of The Things They Carried is akin to a new person throwing on an old pair of shoes. The shoes are the same, but the person is different. In this light, reading both authors within the same academic semester allows a reader to perceive how the style of Washington Irving’s writing is still appreciated today by a modern audience, and can still be used today to convey powerful commentary in a most delicate manner.

This realization allows readers to hold a much greater appreciation for the impact of Washington Irving on American literature, for it serves as evidence of Irving’s longstanding influence. Reflecting upon these similarities in style, content, topic, and themes between Washinton Irving and Tim O’Brien reveal that the literary mannerisms and themes of Washinton Irving’s short stories live on today in the short stories of The Things They Carried.

There may be no greater illustration of an author’s influence on American literature than the success of a modern-day reincarnation of the author’s work. The Things They Carried and Irving’s short stories are both culminations of the tales of America, proving that modern day events in America and life in America can still be written using the same literary approaches and modes as that of great American writers of the past. Using the same literary mannerisms that were pioneered by Washington Irving to tell stories of America’s past, new American stories can be told.

Accordingly, readers searching for an appreciation of either the history of American literature, how American literature has progressed throughout time, or overarching themes that have remained relevant throughout American history, may find it by reading Washington Irving and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Such a reader would benefit from reflecting upon how Irving’s historical literary inventions are utilized by O’Brien to create literature of the modern day.

Jianna Lin is a special guest blogger this week. In Spring 2019, Jianna wrote this blog specifically for the Washington Irving Society page. She submitted the blog as an optional assignment for Dr. Tracy Hoffman’s 2304 American Literature class at Baylor University. This was not a formal paper assignment, but a casual blog response to the reading. Please feel free to leave comments about Jianna’s response here on the website.

Published in: on August 21, 2019 at 12:39 pm  Comments (1)  

Nagging Reminders for Moral Instruction from the Van Winkles, Walkers

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August 14, 2019


“The Devil and Tom Walker” by Washington Irving is a story about Tom Walker, an extremely greedy man, who would rather sell his soul to the devil, or Old Scratch, in order to gain the treasures hidden by a late pirate, than be poor.

His wife who’s equally as greedy, if not more, urges Tom to take the devil up on his offer and sell his own soul after hearing the story of Tom meeting Old Scratch. In spite of his wife, with whom he does not get along, Tom declines the offer of selling his soul in exchange for winning Pirate Kidd’s hidden treasure.

Caused by Tom declining the offer in spite of his wife, she ventures out to strike up a deal with the devil herself. After returning with silver to trade with the devil for a second time, she never returns to Tom. He feels grateful to the devil for ridding him of his horrible, mean wife.

The devil and Tom make a new deal with many more conditions for Tom, like also becoming a slave trader. The story goes on and Tom later feels guilty about being so greedy that he sold his very own soul in order to gain wealth. It is thought, at the end of the story, that he, after being taken away by the devil, haunts Boston.

Tom Walker’s wife reminds me of the wife of Rip Van Winkle, Dame Van Winkle. As I read the beginning of this story, I saw many similarities between the two wives in Washington Irving’s stories.

I began to wonder why Irving depicts women this way in several of his stories. As described in the short story, “Tom’s wife was a tall termagant, fierce of temper, loud of tongue, and strong of arm. Her voice was often heard in wordy warfare with her husband.”

Like in “Rip Van Winkle,” once the two men are free from their wives and they have died, they feel a great sense of relief. As a teacher to kids, it may be wise to pair the two stories and teach them together. The stories read similarly and had similar themes, in relation to the women characters.

Storytelling as moral instruction is a common theme the two stories share. “Rip Van Winkle” is thought sometimes to be a warning to people to stay away from alcohol, as it can have negative effects in one’s life, as in the story. In “The Devil and Tom Walker,” the story could be used as a cautionary tale. The story can be seen as a warning to steer clear of the devil and his effects on people’s lives.

Washington Irving, one of the first American writers to write about fantasy of any sort, writes with the same overall eerie tone in both short stories. As the reader, you can just feel something supernatural will happen at some point in the story. While the relationships with their wives were similar in some ways, they also were different, but the nagging wife character is apparent in both short stories by Irving. Perhaps this is the way Irving felt about women and just so happened so have an interesting way of portraying his views.

Grace Albritton is a special guest blogger this week. In Spring 2019, Grace wrote this blog specifically for the Washington Irving Society page. She submitted the blog as an optional assignment for Dr. Tracy Hoffman’s 2304 American Literature class at Baylor University. This was not a formal paper assignment, but a casual blog response to the reading. Please feel free to leave comments about Grace’s response here on the website.





Published in: on August 14, 2019 at 2:12 pm  Comments (1)  

For the Love of Money: Rooting out Evil in “The Devil and Tom Walker”

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August 7, 2019

Washington Irving’s “The Devil and Tom Walker” seems to be an elaborate tale written with the purpose of equating the want of wealth with the devil and with all things antithetical to goodness and God. In this light, it seems to be a story-version embodiment of a definition for the word or concept, “evil,” in which evil is defined as the pursuit of great wealth.

Of all the sins the devil serves to represent, the story associates the devil with the want of wealth more than any other sin. The association between this pursuit and “evilness” is quite profound throughout the storyline. Not only is pursuing wealth the assumed cause of many deaths, such as those of both Tom, his wife, and others who had made deals with the devil, and the reason Tom acted mean-spiritedly as a usurer, but it is also the cause of conflict and lack of love in relationships, such as that of Tom and his wife, who, despite being married, “conspired to cheat each other” (Irving 1).

The effect of Tom’s want of wealth on his marriage is so strong that when he finds her corpse in the woods, instead of feeling sadness, he “shrugged his shoulders” and “even felt something like gratitude toward the black woodsman, who, he considered, had done him a kindness” (Irving 2).

This shocking reaction of Tom’s highlights the depth of the destructive influence of pursuing wealth. Through portraying the want of wealth as the motivation behind all types of evil behavior and the root of all evil, the story defines evil as the pursuit of wealth.

Beyond associating the want of wealth with evil and all things antithetical to God, the story of “The Devil and Tom Walker” affirms that God cannot be fooled. The story illustrates that God is aware that many, such as Tom, develop “faith” in pursuit of “good things” in the next life. The effect of such materialistic faith is illustrated by Tom’s fate, who, “had left his little Bible at the bottom of his coat-pocket and his big Bible on the desk buried under the mortgage…never was sinner taken more unawares. The black man whisked him like a child into the saddle…and away he galloped, with Tom on his back” (Irving 5).

This powerful and dramatic fate for Tom seems to suggest that those seeking God for motives of securing “treasures in heaven,” as opposed to a genuine relationship with God, are not indeed protected by God. Instead, these individuals, whose faith in God is rooted in and contingent on their desire for materialistic gain, have faith that is fleeting just as material goods are.

The Bible that Tom keeps in his pockets to protect him from the devil is a metaphor for materialistic-based faith, which resides not in one’s heart as a continual theme in their lifestyle, but in their pockets, where it may be conveniently put in and removed again. But real faith, that which has roots in genuine appreciation for God, cannot be removed or forgotten. It is a part of the person, engrained in their heart, always with them.

Tom’s materialistic faith shares the characteristic materialistic objects—it can be misplaced, forgotten, or left behind. When the devil comes for Tom, his Bible, a symbol of his materialistic faith, is left behind. It is not present when he is caught off guard, and is therefore not able to save him. This insinuates that God cannot be fooled, and is not to be used as a means of materialistic gain, for only genuine faith saves.

Jianna Linn is a special guest blogger this week. In Spring 2019, Jianna wrote this blog specifically for the Washington Irving Society page. She submitted the blog as an optional assignment for Dr. Tracy Hoffman’s 2304 American Literature class at Baylor University. This was not a formal paper assignment, but a casual blog response to the reading. Please feel free to leave comments about Jianna’s response here on the website.

Published in: on August 7, 2019 at 5:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Wanted Women” in Jane Austen and Washington Irving

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July 31, 2019

Jane Austen’s Emma and Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” use gender roles to show the devastating truth of the idea of a perfect woman in the eyes of society and how it has influenced the way women see themselves.

At Baylor the words coined “ring by spring” is something students value a lot. Over the years, women have been known as the underdogs. Women have been influenced in ways that make them feel their only duty in life is to get married and become a wife.

Emma, a rather intelligent woman, has no use for her intelligence, so she spends her time helping others find someone to marry. The amount of importance on this encourages Emma’s actions, which leads to a lot of Emma’s mistakes throughout the novel. This “role” we have created for women also comes with its standards or rules for women to live up to.

In Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” Rip finds his wife, Dame, outrageously annoying as she does not fit her role as a wife. Dame is said to constantly nag at Rip in order to get him to do his duties as a man around the house. This analogy depicts how we think women should act as a wife: to not say a thing, let men do as they please, and complete all of our house chores.

These two depictions show what everyone has expected women to do for years. The stereotypical role of a woman still influences women today because it becomes associated with what a man loves most about a woman: one who stays quiet and finishes her chores. Because marriage is so highly valued we feel a need to look up to these unwritten rules as women, so we can become a wife. By doing so, we completely neglect who we are and change ourselves.

As a woman, it is sad for me to see how women are portrayed in both these works. It also explains why so many women change the way they are for men and aspire to be the perfect wife today. When Rip finds out that Dame is dead he is not bothered by it but, in fact, relieved by the news.

Over the years, gender stereotypes are either like Emma, completely investing themselves in the idea of marriage, or doing everything to become the perfect idea of a woman. No one wants to be a Dame. Dame is not liked by men. At least, that is how the book portrays her.

In my opinion, Dame is the hero in all of this gender role nonsense. She does not follow the rules and does what is best for her family by nagging Rip to keep up with his work around the house. This is why it is so important for people today to start writing and talking about women the same as we do men. In conclusion, because marriage is so heavily valued, so is trying to mold ourselves into being the “wanted women.”

Lizzie Darwin is a special guest blogger this week. In Spring 2019, Lizzie wrote this blog specifically for the Washington Irving Society page. She submitted the blog as an optional assignment for Dr. Tracy Hoffman’s 2304 American Literature class at Baylor University. This was not a formal paper assignment, but a casual blog response to the reading. Please feel free to leave comments about Lizzie’s response here on the website.


Published in: on July 31, 2019 at 2:43 pm  Comments (2)  

Edith Wharton’s “Ethan Frome” Pairs Well with Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

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July 24, 2019

Washington Irving is one of the greatest American authors. During this semester, we read Irving’s Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I personally felt a deeper connection to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow because I used to live in New York state prior to my family moving to Texas.

The way that Irving describes the beautiful scenery of the North East was a trip down memory lane for me. I also enjoyed the plot of the story, as it came across as a funny story rather than a horror story, as I thought it would be. Because the story plays out that Brom was playing a joke on Ichabod, the story read out like a long practical joke and the plot of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was light and funny.

A light story (one that a reader could still think about) would pair well with the Washington Irving stories. Because we read the Washington Irving stories under the theme of romance in class, I would recommend a book written by Edith Wharton. I adore books written by Edith Wharton because the descriptions that she writes portrays beautiful scenery and pictures and the reader feels as if he or she was really there with the characters. I read a book titled Ethan Frome and Other Short Fiction and I couldn’t help but make a connection between the short stories of Edith Wharton to the Sketch book that Washington Irving made.

The story of Ethan Frome is about a man who searches for love and finds it with the wrong girl. Like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, there is a tragic love along the story. The plot is interesting because there are unexpected turns, for example the character that Ethan Frome falls in love with is Mattie Silver, the cousin to his wife. Thus, there is a love triangle between Ethan Frome, Mrs. Frome, and Mattie Silvers. This is similar to the plot of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow because the reader is aware of a love triangle between the main character, Ichabod Crane, Brom Van Brunt, and Katherine Van Tassel.

The two stories are also similar because they both have grim undertones. As a reader, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad by the fact that Ichabod did not end up marrying Katherine Van Tassel. There was no happy ending for any of the characters because the reader does not find out about the future of Katherine Van Tassel or Brom Van Brunt. Similarly in Ethan Frome, the main couple dies in a tragic accident after finding out that they could never be together.

The two stories compliment each other because they give the reader a similar feeling. The stories also share a similar plot line and are written by notable American authors.

Christine Perera is a special guest blogger this week. In Spring 2019, Christine wrote this blog specifically for the Washington Irving Society page. She submitted the blog as an optional assignment for Dr. Tracy Hoffman’s 2304 American Literature class at Baylor University. This was not a formal paper assignment, but a casual blog response to the reading. Please feel free to leave comments about Christina’s response here on the website.

Published in: on July 24, 2019 at 3:53 pm  Comments (1)  

Irvine: Mary Shelley’s “Pet Name” for Washington Irving, Intriguing Twist to History of Irving, Texas

Irving News Record

The Irving News Record, October 29, 1959, discusses the founding of Irving. — City of Irving, Texas, archives


Published in: on July 17, 2019 at 2:23 pm  Comments (4)  

Washington Irving Wednesdays: Summer Additions

July 10, 2019


Well, it’s been awhile. And I have much to say, but I’ll try to keep it short. My purpose is simple: jump back into Washington Irving Wednesdays!

Today, I updated the Washington Irving Society page, so you can check out our recent panels from the American Literature Association in Boston over Memorial Week. We had three exceptional panels.

I can’t fully put into words how incredibly proud I am of the outstanding work graduate students, emerging Washington Irving scholars, and seasoned scholars are doing. We never have a lack of things to say and consider about the Father of American Literature.

At our business meeting in Boston, it was decided that Sean Keck would remain as vice-president and I would remain as president. John Anderson will be assisting with Facebook, and Jeffrey Scraba will be monitoring Spanish posts in Twitter.

However, we did not have a volunteer for a Washington Irving Society Treasurer. If you’re interested, please let me know. Basically, Sean Keck and I don’t feel comfortable receiving money on our website, spending such funds, and moving forward as a 501C3, without having a treasurer in place. We don’t mind hiring an accountant to take care of taxes, so you won’t have to worry about that. Again, let me know if you’d be willing to serve in this capacity.

Speaking of treasure. So, later this afternoon, I’ll be cruising over to the city archives in Irving, Texas, to continue working on my Washington Irving and Texas book project. I’ll definitely be reporting back on some of the hidden treasures I’m bound to uncover.

I’ve also been in Paris, one reason why I haven’t been blogging on Wednesdays. Irving’s visit there is once again on my mind. I’ll try to write about my trip’s connections with Irving in some upcoming Wednesday blogs.

Next week, I’m being interviewed for another podcast about The Sketch Book, so I’ll be doing some prep work for that interview this week. The big question I must address: “What’s so great about The Sketch Book?” Let’s just say that my blog next Wednesday will probably involve teasing out this question. It’s an overwhelming question considering all the possibilities, and I’ll definitely break it down to something manageable. My answer will probably begin with “Well, it’s great to me in these ways…”

Until next Washington Irving Wednesday…


Published in: on July 10, 2019 at 12:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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