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)  

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”

rooting money

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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  
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