Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving - Penguin Classics

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories.  Washington Irving.  Edited and Noted by Elizabeth Bradley. Penguin Group (USA). September 2014. 400 pp. pbk. ISBN #: 9780143107538.

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Sleepy Hollow, located in the Hudson River Valley of New York State, carries a familiar ambience of what Irving described as “The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions…and the nightmare, with her whole nine fold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.” Such exquisite writing immerses the reader into the atmosphere Irving was so talented in creating in the well-known stories of “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” from which the above quote emanates.  These have become classic tales of New York literature and history that still thrill every reader.

But just as much as the mystical, bloody, haunted qualities are rife in those two short stories, so too beautiful, literate and profoundly memorable descriptions are everywhere in the other segments in this collection within [The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.]  Read of Irving’s lovely appreciation of nature in upstate Sleepy Hollow. 

Or perhaps read of the irony of Irving’s visit to Stratford-on-Avon, home of the playwright William Shakespeare, as he views the ordinary material possessions in Shakespeare’s home through the prism of the abundant words and scenes created by this brilliant author, all of which have remained in Irving’s mind and which color his every perception during this memorable trip. 

Appreciate also the irony with which he describes settings and behavior of individuals who have rather large egos – while never directly criticizing them, Irving satirizes with his comic descriptions, as in “Christmas Eve,” where he describes a British officer who had been wounded but could talk French and Italian, draw landscapes, sing very tolerably, dance divinely; but above all he had been wounded at Waterloo – “…what girl of seventeen, well read in poetry and romance, could resist such a mirror of chivalry and perfection!”  Love it!

On and on the talented author Washington Irving describes the vicissitudes of life in America and England throughout this collection.  His purpose, he claimed, was to not only plumb the depths of the relatively new American experience but to visit the places in England that were the historical and cultural sources that would enrich those who came to create an American experience.  While the latter was new, Irving acknowledged one could not deny the formidable influence of the past – and so he presents it in all its glory, tomfoolery, and wonderful fame!

This is a worthy collection to keep and relish frequently over and over; it truly is a series of phenomenal travel and fictional writings by one of the earliest masters of literary fame in America.  Highly recommended reading!

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