Washington Irving

Author of the early 1800s

Washington Irving

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Washington Irving was born April 3rd,1783 in New York City. He was one of eleven children born to William Irving Sr. and Sarah Irving. His parents were English-Scottish immigrants. Washington Irving was named after the war hero and first president George Washington. Irving was educated privately and eventually went to law school and in his free time he began to write, thus starting his writing career. Before law school Irving traveled to France and Italy where he first started to begin writing essays and letters. After a few years he then returned to New York City. Almost a decade later Irving went to England where he began to work for his brother and after he hated the job he started writing his first novels that include Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He then traveled to Germany then he went back to America and four years later moved to Spain. In Spain he worked at the US embassy in Madrid and wrote the biography of Christopher Columbus, the Granada and the Alhambra. On the move again he went to London, England where he was secretary of the US Legation and traveled back to Spain and to become the US ambassador. Finally, he settled down in Sunnyside New York near Tarrytown New York where he wrote a 5 volume series of George Washington's biography. Irving then became a best selling author. He died November 28th, 1859 and was buried in Sleepy Hollow cemetery in Sleepy Hollow New York. In 1999 Tim Burton released the film Sleepy Hollow starring Johnny Depp about Washington Irving's novel The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Common Themes

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  • Imagery was a literary device Irving used in all of his works
  • Imagery- using words to create a picture in the readers mind and long descriptions of the American landscapes
  • Irving's novel's themes were American
  • His works were known as native literature

Major Works

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The story starts off with this guy named Ichabod coming from Connecticut to Sleepy Hollow, New York to teach. The only skill he has is teaching. He moves around from neighborhood to neighborhood tutoring kids and staying in people's houses. He keeps all of his belongings in a big handkerchief. Then he gets a student named Katrina Van Tassel whose family is very wealthy. Ichabod wants to marry her so he can get to her family's money ,but there is a problem she has a boyfriend (Brom Bones). Brom Bones knows Ichabod wants to be with Katrina so he plays a lot of pranks on Ichabod. Then Ichabod is invited to a party at Katrina's house. He goes there to try and win Katrina over. Ichabod gets to dance with her and Brom Bones gets really jealous. After the party, Ichabod finds out that the only reason Katrina danced with him was to make Brom Bones jealous. Ichabod gets mad and offended and rides away on his horse. While he is riding, the headless horseman rides up to him and throws his head at Ichabod. The next day the people find Ichabod's horse but can't find Ichabod and immediately the rumors spread. Some say he is dead, some say he is afraid to come back to Sleepy Hollow. Whenever Brom Bones hears people talk about the headless horseman and Ichabod, he smiles.

(Side note: Critics think that the headless horseman is Brom Bones.)

Rip Van Winkle

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In order to escape his wife's constant harassment on an autumn day, Rip decides to go out into the Kaatskill Mountains with his dog. He takes his gun and heads out for some peace. Once he's alone, he hears someone calling his name and sees a man wearing old Dutch clothing carrying a keg. The poor guy obviously needs some help, so without saying anything, Rip helps the guy carry his keg to an amphitheater in the woods. Here he finds more men dressed in old Dutch frocks playing a game of skittles, or nine-pins, which is like bowling. The racket of the game makes a thunderous sound, and no one is speaking, so Rip says nothing and begins to drink some of the liquor from the keg. Next thing you know, he's getting a bit drowsy. Rip awakes in the morning to find that his dog is gone, his gun is rusted and he's had an abnormal amount of beard-growth over night. He remembers the men playing nine-pins and is worried about Dame Van Winkle's reaction to his late return. But when he enters town, things are different. There is a picture of George Washington at the inn, and all of the townspeople look different. After pledging his loyalty to the King (which doesn't go over so well in the post-Revolution state) and meeting another man by the name of Rip Van Winkle (who turns out to be his son), Rip is assisted by the crowd that has since grown around him and learns that he has been missing for 20 years. He is also told of the legend that Henry Hudson and his ghosts revisit the Hudson Valley every 20 years and many believe that Rip has been away with Hudson and his men in that time. It is then decided that Rip will live with his now-grown daughter and continue to live the life that he lived before, only he has escaped having to face a war and even worse, his hen-pecking wife.


Carroll, H. (n.d.). Washington Irving: Biography, Works, and Style. Retrieved December 2, 2014, from http://education-portal.com/academy/lesson/washington-irving-biography-works-and-style.html#lesson

Carroll, H. (n.d.). Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle: Summary and Analysis. Retrieved December 2, 2014, from http://education-portal.com/academy/lesson/washington-irvings-rip-van-winkle-summary-and-analysis.html#lesson

Schoolbytes. (n.d.). Retrieved December 2, 2014, from http://www.schoolbytes.com/english/summary.php?id=394#.VH0DcjHF-So

Washington Irving Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved December 2, 2014, from http://www.biography.com/people/washington-irving-9350087#profile

Washington Irving Essay - Irving, Washington - eNotes.com. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.enotes.com/topics/washington-irving/critical-essays/irving-washington