My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Washington Irving is more of a representative American writer than many contemporary readers, general or academic, wont to think of in spirit and style with an agenda to set the new distinctive culture in Postcolonial America. He is also a forebear of self-indulgent American narrative style in the manner of indolent solipsistic monologue principally via stream of consciousness. Independent of the genre, unpretentious of caliber, Irving is a freelancer writing when he could, not when he should, in the vanguard of American literary pioneers including Robert Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Herman Melville, and Ernest Hemingway. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories from The Sketch Book is emblematic of Irving’s unique literary bent that fuses American consciousness’s singularity and the commonality of the universal mind. The book is a fascinating collection of 35 stories written by the curious spirit of whimsical and perceptive observation of people, places, and events – real or imagined, American or international – that grab the reader’s attention without distraction.
Irving is, first and foremost, an engaging raconteur with a dazzling combination of erudition and heart crisscrossing the boundary of time and culture. He is an American version of Homer and Aesop in creating legends in the likeness of truth and anchoring it in reality with ingenious storytelling skills and knowledge drawn on a wealth of letters and original scholarship. To illustrate, the story of “Roscoe” represents a new model author unassuming of his learning and generous of sharing it with the public. “The Art of Bookmaking” is an amusing tale of literary poacher witnessing a fantastic literary masquerade of great writers of all time coming alive in the British Library gallery. Irving criticizes the British intelligentsia’s snobbishness that belittles honest-to-goodness American hospitality toward strangers but extols the joy of British folks in ‘The Inn Kitchen.’ Irving’s admiration of Shakespeare’s natural wit and genius use of the language transcendent of ages and societies is touchy-feely in ‘Stratford-on-Avon’ without blind idolization of the Bard. Besides, Irving’s perspective on American Indians is a heartfelt testimony against sordid mistreatment of them by his civilized proud countrymen without a sanctimonious statement in the selfishness of the lettered case.
Irving’s honest narratives speak of the practical purpose of language of literature, which he tries to attribute to the bedrock of American literature. The social function of language as the active medium of cultural transmission that embeds the amiable and noble feeling of humanity becomes the foundation of Irving’s cultural agenda of establishing unique American culture independent of the old world’s cultural and political authority in consequence of the Revolutionary War. His use of the war exploits inventive thematic elements of folklore and history in the background of a tremendous chaotic break with the Empire via circuitous engagement. In this regard, Robert Waldo Emerson is a direct descendant of Irving to confirm the American literary baptism in the Living Streams of Knowledge that always flows in new, functionary divides.
The book is Irving’s textual testimony to the American literary and cultural independence trying to mark itself in the world’s literature following its seismic detachment from the mother country as if to rebel against the authoritarian upbringing that would stunt the growth of the child. However, contemporary American intelligentsia seems to betray Irving’s advocation of the inclusiveness of language. It’s either too cerebral or overtly esoteric with an excessively complicated play of words that do not consider general readers in mind. Knowledge is free to all, and by the charity of sharing the light of education, the cultural enterprise thrives in the continuation of civilization. Writers are extraordinary because they represent humanity by the medium of words from intellect with a heart across the divide of time. For this reason, this collection of stories defies the encroachments of time, regaling the posterity with the pleasure of vivid storytelling dipped in wit and erudition that is remarkably American in the bliss of eternal youth.