Washington Irving

Religion, Romanticism, & Reform Project


Washington Irving was born in New York City on April 3, 1789 as the youngest of 11 children. Named after the first president of America, Irving had many interests, ranging from architecture to diplomacy. He also enjoyed traveling and transversed Europe from 1804 to 1806, and often wrote about places he visited.

His most famous, however, was writing as he was the first American to make a living solely from writing. He adopted a pseudonym, Dietrich Knickerbocker, under which he wrote A History of New York, a humorous portrayal of Dutch settlers in early Manhattan.

By 1815, Irving returned to Europe where he stayed for 17 years. In 1820, he published "The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent." A collection of short stories, it included both Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, his most famous stories which allowed him to pursue a full-time career as a writer.

Thus by the 1820s, Irving began receiving international fame as a great thinker and writer, earning several honorary degrees from prominent colleges. The Spanish even elected him to the Real Academia de la Historia in 1828.

In 1832, he returned back home to Sunnyside, which became quite an attraction to many later on, to New York. In 1842, he was elected by President John Tyler as minister to Spain. He finally died in 1859, right before the Civil War, and was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

Washington Irving never married or had children.

Washington Irving: Biography, Works, And Style

Common Themes and Subject Matter

Many of his works drew upon his home state of New York, along with childhood memories. These memories appeared not only in letters addressed to family and friends, but his "The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon." The Sleepy Hollow in his work was based on the lower Hudson Valley near Tarrytown, N.Y. and the setting of Rip Van Winkle was based around the Catskill Mountains of upper New York.

The American Revolution is also present in both the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle (Rip Van Winkle actually sleeps throughout the entire war). Perhaps one could deduce more about his subject matter, such as a "transition from a feudal to a bourgeois society" (Goldman), but these are ambiguous and open to interpretation