A Few Great, Not-So-Great Men: Washington Irving’s Biography Choices

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President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

This past week, I graded an extraordinary paper about the short story form Irving selected for his “Philip of Pokanoket,” which appears in The Sketch Book (1819-1820). Since then, I’ve been thinking about the men Irving chose to sketch loosely and those he opted to flesh out fully in thick volumes.

Irving wrote about Native-Americans in the sketch of Metacomet (King Philip), and he also wrote lengthier books that included Native-Americans, such as A Tour on the Prairies (1835), but he never devoted a single book-length project to one noteable Native-American.

Biographies written by Irving include:

  1. A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828)
  2. Adventures of Captain Bonneville (1837)
  3. The Life of Oliver Goldsmith (1840)
  4. Mahomet and His Successors (1849)
  5. The Life of George Washington (1855-1859)

What do these choices say about Irving?

In many instances, I’ve given Washington Irving credit for considering the plight of natives. In fact, I’ve even argued that his strong stance on the freedom of natives could easily be transferred to slaves, since he doesn’t openly concern himself with the plight of African-Americans in his lengthy nineteenth-century writing career. His clear choice, however, to never publish a book on a single native is troubling.

Rather than simply stewing over Irving’s choices, I want to think through what may have affected his writing decisions. Scholars don’t always agree with the writers they study, and I can’t be expected to always side with Irving’s stance. Most nineteenth-century writers make our skin crawl at times.

Making writing choices can be tough. For those of us who currently write, present, publish, podcast, give talks, and such, coming to a subject can take seemingly unplanned turns and twists. For instance, this blog originally started out as a commentary on Major Andre’s tree, and it drifted into biographies. Should I blame God? My Muse? Irving’s ghost? I can’t fully explain how I choose what to write, but what’s deep in my heart eventually comes out in my writing.

The same had to be true for Irving. It wasn’t in his heart to write a book about Metacomet or any other native. Oh, if he had only taken up Pocahontas!

Early in his career, Irving wrote a “sketch” book, where he readily confesses to doing people and places injustice due to his lack of detail. He sketches scenes like an artist would doodle on a sketch pad, so his intent of skimming the surface remains clear.

After Irving’s three collections of sketch books, after moving over to Spain, he devotes himself to an intense study of Christopher Columbus and publishes a hefty study of his life. Spain was in his heart, and that came out in books about the Alhambra, the Conquest of Granada, Christopher Columbus, and much later, Mahomet.

I’ve already written about and given talks about the irony of George Washington and the prophet Muhammad coming together at the end of Irving’s writing career. In some ways, the selections make sense. Irving saw a connection between the decline of Islam in Europe and the rise of America. Because Ferdinand and Isabella pushed the Moors out of Spain, they could then send Columbus off to explore.

However, Irving was on a trajectory to write more stories about the West, after his trilogy of A Tour on the Prairies, Astoria (1836), and Captain Bonneville (1837). The West was in his mind’s eye, and Bonneville and Astor stole his allegiance. Of course, we know the love of John Jacob Astor’s money may have been in his heart at that point.

Other events may have cut off his western writing. Irving wanted to write about Mexico, but William Prescott beat him to it, with the History of the Conquest of Mexico in 1843. Maybe Irving’s heart moved eastward, back home to Sunnyside and even back over to Europe, after missing such an opportunity.

Living in Spain inspired The Alhambra, The Conquest of Granada, and Columbus, and it looks like his ambassadorship to Spain from 1842-1846 affected his writing choices once again. After serving as ambassador, he never writes another book-length project set in the West.

That’s about all the time I have for this subject today, but I’ll no doubt revisit Irving’s biography choices when flipping through his journals in the future. This week, my Early American Lit students are recording podcasts for a presentation grade, so I may decide to record my next blog for an audio post, too. Here’s hoping a great topic, which lends itself to audio, will hit my heart in the next week.

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I love receiving feedback from readers! Please feel free to drop comments wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. 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 November 13, 2019 at 1:27 pm  Comments (1)  

Seeking Headless Horseman for 2020


The 4th floor of Brooks Hall at Baylor University decorated a hallway with a Headless Horseman theme. During Treat Night, a headless horseman sat in this chair and passed out candy. –Photo by Tracy Hoffman

President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

In preparation for Baylor’s Treat Night on October 22, the students in one residence hall decorated using “The Headless Horseman” theme. In fact, one young man even dressed up like the headless one, holding a pumpkin filled with candy for the visiting trick-or-treater children.

Treat Night is one of many ways Baylor bridges the gap between Baylor Bears and nearby Wacoans. Baylor students dress up, decorate, and provide candy for children in the Waco area and for kids of Baylor faculty. I took my nephew once when he was little and have gone with colleagues and their wee ones, too. It’s always a fun night.

My students told me about Baylor’s recent Treat Night and about the headless horseman theme when I returned from my own Sleepy Hollow, New York, adventure. One of my nursing majors even showed me pictures of the headless horseman, and he was fantastic! Ironically, I had tried to find a headless horseman costume at the Halloween stores in both Dallas/Fort Worth and in New York, but never spotted one.

So I immediately went to work seeking out this undergraduate horseman for hire. I thought it would be great to have him walk up on my American Lit classes, and I was hoping he’d work for a Starbucks gift card or two. I reached out to the CLs (community leaders) in said residence hall, and immediately heard back. They thought it was a great idea and passed along my request to the headless horseman. Unfortunately, we were entering Fall Break when I reached out, so I didn’t expect to hear anything else until Halloween week.

During this respite, I reached out to my department chair to make sure it would be okay to have a headless horseman, less the horse, running around the building. He said it would be fine, but also asked if he needed to purchase some extra life insurance.

Fall Break came and went. We returned to school on the Monday before Halloween, and sadly, this most excellent Headless Horseman never contacted me, and I have no idea who this mysterious rider was. In anticipation of the 200th celebration of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” story in 2020, I will hire this horseman, find another one, or dress as the headless horseman myself. Any suggestions?

The good news for 2019: three of my students walked me over to the residence hall before decorations were destroyed, and I caught a glimpse of the Sleepy Hollow theme on the 4th floor hallway. One student told me they had done the theme the year prior, while another told me that was incorrect, so I have no idea if the theme will repeat next year.

In wrapping up my thoughts for today, I would like to congratulate the Baylor Bear football team for their Growl-o-ween victory over West Virginia on Halloween night. I couldn’t be in the stands, but I cheered from afar. It’s nice to see the team undefeated, 8-0. Here’s to taking the Big 12 by chasing away some frogs, Sooners, and Longhorns.

Speaking of chases, one blog follower has suggested that I chase too many rabbit trails. My apologies. Today, I tried to only chase bear trails.

And I threw in a split infinitive for all the English majors who are proofreading my posts. As my students know, I’m keeping blog posts casual and occasionally garbled for those who shamelessly cut and paste my words.

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I love receiving feedback from readers! Please feel free to drop comments wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. 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 November 6, 2019 at 1:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Pilgrimage to Sleepy Hollow

Irving grave

Washington Irving’s grave in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Photo by Tracy Hoffman

President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

After a recent visit to the Old Dutch Church and old graveyards in Sleepy Hollow, New York, I’ve been mulling over religious references in Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Typically, I like to handle gender in Irving’s writing. I contributed to the Washington Irving and Islam (2018) collection, but even that article was gender-related. Despite our work on Islam, Washington Irving scholars have not focused nearly enough on religion in Irving’s biography and legacy.

So here’s the scholar from Baylor University—the largest Baptist university in the world, as well as the largest and oldest private university in the great state of Texas—here to save the day!

(We have no shame in our recruiting efforts. Sic ‘Em Bears!)

Seriously, much work still needs to be done, and like I said, my recent trip to Irving’s “neck of the woods” surprisingly steered me toward this religious area of study.

I won’t take the time to flesh out anything too detailed, such as a Baptist reading or the influence of Irving’s Scottish-Presbyterian father, but I want to point out a few general ideas from the story which lend themselves to religious interpretation.

First off, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is part of Geoffrey Crayon’s Sketch Book (1819-1820). It doesn’t take a genius to figure out Irving borrows from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Instead of the Wife of Bath and the Knight, Crayon gives us Squire Bracebridge and Katrina Van Tassel. Our narrator even displays a madrigal dinner in the Christmas sketches.

If Geoffrey Chaucer writes of folk on pilgrimage to Canterbury, it makes sense for Crayon to sketch folks on pilgrimage as well. Is it possible for each character in each sketch to be a pilgrim on a journey? Certainly, Ichabod Crane enters Tarrytown as an outsider and vacates the area by story’s end. His final destination remains questionable, but we know he’s had a rough ride in his journey through Sleepy Hollow.

Ironically, too, Washington Irving himself was on a pilgrimage of sorts while writing the book: a journey to prove himself as an American writer in a foreign land.

WI would have been well-versed in Chaucer, but how intricately he weaves Chaucer into his writing, in my opinion, has not been thoroughly analyzed. Dozens of articles and handfuls of books could further address this parallel. Here’s hoping more Chaucer experts will consider Irving’s Sketch Book as we continue celebrating its 200th anniversary.

Secondly, we forget about Ichabod Crane’s religious connections.

Perhaps we overlook Christian imagery because of the tantalizing details competing for our attention in “Sleepy Hollow”: the headless horseman, ghosts, the angst between Brom Bones and Ichabod, the flirty Katrina, and more. This is true of my students, as well as scholarly circles and Irving enthusiasts in the Hudson Valley area.

But Ichabod Crane reads Cotton Mather and sings hymns, and he’s following the lead of Brother Jonathan from Royall Tyler’s Contrast (1787). This Connecticut Yankee type has continued with us, now most obvious in our representations of Uncle Sam. As we’ve stripped Uncle Sam of religion, we likewise skim over Ichabod’s Calvinist ways.

For those who know James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans, David Gamut serves as the buffoon of the story, singing psalm tunes to ward off evil spirits during battle scenes. As a contemporary of Cooper, Irving writes Ichabod Crane the same. He’s the butt of the jokes, but he’s also an instrument of religious fervor.

I thought about our Connecticut Yankee on my recent trip when we accidentally ventured into Connecticut in the rental car. We folks in the heart of Texas sometimes forget how close neighboring states are on the East Coast. How interesting in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” that someone from Connecticut contrasts so greatly with the nearby community of Tarrytown.

Those in Texas might understand it this way: Ichabod Crane is like a Texas A&M Aggie in town for Baylor homecoming. Even though Bears and Aggies don’t live that far apart, an Aggie would be an obvious outsider in the Baylor Bubble. And I’ll wrap up this blog, since it appears the conversation is going downhill into football smack.

My intent is to jump specifically into a religious subject on my next blog, something of interest to most Irving scholars and fans. I’m leaning toward religious practices kept at the Old Dutch Church.

It makes sense for me to work on a Baptist reading of “Sleepy Hollow,” but I’ll save that for a scholarly journal. For years, I’ve wanted to do a book on Connecticut Yankees, but it will have to wait until I knock out some other projects. Clearly, I need to take up the Gamut. Pun intended.

I love receiving feedback from readers! Please feel free to drop comments wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. 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 October 30, 2019 at 8:59 am  Leave a Comment  

On My Way to Kaatskill, Sunnyside


Goudy’s signature on “Rip Van Winkle” #1227

President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Last week, I promised to find the font Kaatskill, and I did. It’s easy to find online. Some packages appear to be around $40, while others are over $100.

Before I invest in the type, though, I’m checking with my university’s IT department. Certainly, professors in other departments have requested additional typefaces. It could be as simple as the click of a button, or it might require some red tape. Either way, I’ll keep at it until I have the font loaded onto my computer.

This week in my Early American Lit class, as I was attempting to help undergraduate students find topics and arguments for their research papers, I briefly mentioned the Kaatskill font designed for “Rip Van Winkle.”

I was hoping someone might get excited about bibliography, researching the history of the texts assigned to them. I thought, perhaps, how a text was typeset would light somebody’s fire. We had already discussed the standardization of spelling after reading Samson Occom, and a few seemed genuinely interested in grammar, spelling, and the textual emendations.

The response to Kaatskill: “Will you be requiring this font for upcoming papers?”

I laughed, mostly because I was taken aback by the response. I had thought about using the family of type on the Washington Irving Society page. I even had thoughts of using Kaatskill for a theoretical scholarly journal. Surely we could use it, if we ever decided to launch a journal. But requiring it for student papers hadn’t crossed my mind.

My 30-second font lecture didn’t accomplish much, but students were excited about my upcoming trip to New York to visit Irving’s old haunts. They get Monday off to do an online assignment about their research projects.

Here’s hoping someone will surprise me with at least one comment about type for the online assignment.

I’ll be back again next week, on the other side of Sunnyside. My flight leaves on Saturday, and I return late Tuesday. God willing, I’ll have a few paragraphs to drop here next Wednesday about the trip.

And that’s all I have for this “92 degrees in Texas” Wednesday in October. I love receiving feedback from readers! Please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Also feel free to message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to all correspondence on Wednesdays, and also update the WIS page.


Published in: on October 9, 2019 at 5:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

Falling for Kaatskill: A “Rip Van Winkle” Inspired Type Face

Kaatskill font

President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The high temperature today in Waco, Texas, should hit around 96 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s what it was yesterday. It’s tough to think about pumpkin spice lattes and carving jack-o-lanterns when we’re ready to bob for apples in an ice bucket. (By the way, does anyone still bob for apples? I can’t say I’ve noticed any apple bobbing lately.)

Though I’m trying to wrap my head around an upcoming October trip to Irving’s “neck of the woods,” I’m having a tough time escaping from a Texas state of mind. After I travel to Sunnyside–after feeing some cool air and after getting some lowlights at the hair salon–I’ll be in the mood to discuss autumn, fall foliage and such, as it relates to Irving.

But heat in Texas is at the forefront of my mind, still.

Yesterday, during a respite form the heat, I spent a few minutes thinking about a tweet from “Peterloo 1819 News.” This Twitter account advertises: “Tweeting like it’s 1819, before, during & after the Peterloo massacre (not just about that, though). In the style of 2019, modern commentary clearly highlighted.”

And here’s the tweet that grabbed my attention and got me to thinking: “Washington Irving was one of the 1st US writers to become popular in Europe & a friend of Scott & Dickens. Rip inspired films, TV, comics, statues, even wallpaper.”

Initially, “film” jumped at me, because the Washington Irving Society is working on a Call for Papers about “Washington Irving and Film.” But then there was that “wallpaper” business at the end, in bold.

I clicked on the photo link and studied the Washington Irving “Rip Van Winkle” wallpaper for a few minutes. That was new information. I wasn’t aware that such wallpaper existed. And I’ve studied wallpaper, believe it or not—for decorating walls and for desktop publishing. I recall spending quality time looking through wallpaper books to find the perfect design to manipulate for a background on some publication.

This morning, with thoughts of the Texas heat and “Rip Van Winkle” wallpaper in my head, I came across Mark Van Doren’s 1930 copy of “Rip Van Winkle.” This library book from Baylor was sitting with a pile of Irving books I recently checked out to study the art work associated with “Rip.” So here are the comments by Van Doren worth repeating:

“It is particularly fitting that the type composition for a new edition of RIP VAN WINKLE should be done in the vicinage of IRVING’s story…It has been designed by Mr. FREDERIC W. GOUDY for the composition of this great American classic by the American author who first interpreted the spirit and function of American literature” (3).

Van Doren continues: “It was Mr. GOUDY’s intention to present a letter as simple, legible, vigorous, clear and effective in detail as possible, and which would show no note of strangeness in the mass. How well he has succeeded is for the reader to decide. It has been named “KAATSKILL” by the designer of the face, who, with the help of Mrs. GOUDY, has engraved the matrices from which it is cast; the setting of the type has been done by Mrs. GOUDY at THE VILLAGE PRESS, Deepdene, Marlborough, N.Y.” (4).

Now, I’m ready to nerd out on typefaces.

Back in the day, while student teaching and paying for another round of undergraduate education, I worked in the composing department of a newspaper. My team worked with the art department to create ads for customers. I spent 40 hours a week, for three years, studying typefaces.

Today, when students turn in papers, I immediately notice the kern (spaces between words), the leading (spaces between lines), and other technical matters that sometimes shock my students. They can’t sneak any oddball spacing past me.

I’ve also taught the “History of Journalism” in a former life, and always loved talking about the history of the press, how type was set, how messy press rooms were, and more.

Despite the fact that I’m too grumpy for saccharine candy corn and hot apple cider, I am terribly excited about learning one more intriguing tidbit this morning about my good friend, Washington Irving, and his legacy.

By the way, F.W. Goudy signed the back of this library book from 1930. It’s copy #1227. That excites me, too, considering all the times I’ve used the Goudy family of typefaces.

Perhaps I’ve used Kaatskill type in the past, but it’s not in my small assortment of fonts in Microsoft Word, InDesign, etc. My goal between now and next Washington Irving Wednesday will be to find and use the font, even if it requires purchasing and calling the IT Department at Baylor.

And that’s all I have for this hot Wednesday in October. I love receiving feedback from readers! Please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Also feel free to message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to all correspondence on Wednesdays, and also update the WIS page.


Works Cited

Irving, Washington. Rip Van Winkle: A Posthumous Writing of Diedrich Knickerbocker with an Introduction by Mark Van Doren. The Limited Editions Club (New York): 1930.



Published in: on October 2, 2019 at 5:15 pm  Comments (1)  

Swag & Such: Casting a Vision for the Future Washington Irving Society

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President of the Washington Irving Society

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

After listening to some podcasts about “visioneering” and “vivid vision,” I find myself wondering what the future Washington Irving Society should look like.

As 2020 looms around the corner, I can see one year into the future. We plan to host at least one panel for the American Literature Association conference in San Diego on “Washington Irving and Film.” The Call for Papers will be posted shortly.

This Fall 2019 and then again in Spring 2020, I’ll be visiting Irving’s Sunnyside estate and scouting for venues where we might host a conference for the society. A Washington Irving Society conference is likely for 2021. That puts us two years into the future.

In fact, I would also like to set up a Sunnyside, New York, trip every Fall Break for English majors at Baylor. That’s not really WIS business, but it’s part of the vision I see for Irving scholarship, albeit undergraduate research.

The Washington Irving Society is in the process of putting a treasurer in place so that we can file with the IRS as a non-profit. Hopefully, by January 2020, we’ll be able to take dues and raise funds to sponsor graduate students at our upcoming conferences, to maintain and improve the WIS page, to recognize outstanding scholars, to provide scholarships, and to host receptions.

That’s the future I see, but I need to broaden my horizons if I’m to keep pace with the rest of the world.

Yesterday afternoon, three of my freshmen students stayed after class to take several rounds of selfies and other posed pictures. I didn’t really think much of it. They were working on their poses while I was packing up my things after class. They swapped Instagram and Snap account information, and I thought to myself how nice it was to see freshmen making friends.

But then one of the young women explained to me what had just transpired. She said one of the three had designed and made some earrings to sell for hurricane relief, and they were posting photos of them sporting the earrings to promote the merchandise.

Wow. I was way off base. But pleasantly surprised. How awesome is that?!

Recently, I chatted with some colleagues about our incoming freshmen: how their skill sets seem to fall on the extremes. Some struggle with basic things like getting to class on time and printing papers while other students are running non-profit organizations and operating multiple web sites.

Today, I’m wondering if I’m like one of those students who struggles with the basics when everybody else is juggling so many more awesome activities.

These recent podcasts I absorbed have left me with one simple statement to consider:

“It would be really cool if the Washington Irving Society could ____________________.”

What else might we imagine for future scholarship and the promotion of Irving? Let me know. Help me cast a greater vision. I’d love your feedback.

Please feel free to add to the conversation wherever you like: Twitter, Facebook, on this page. Comments are very much welcomed. Also feel free to message me at Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. I try to respond to all correspondence on Wednesdays, and also update the WIS page.

Published in: on September 25, 2019 at 11:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Thinking about Irving in Light of 9/11

woman on rock platform viewing city

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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 Tracy_Hoffman@baylor.edu. 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?

selective focus photography of child hand

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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

white ceramic plate

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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)  
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