I wanted to look at some good, sturdy old American short fiction this week, since I’d even gone slack on my specially designed “easy Friday posts,” and after thinking about some Melville and Hawthorne it was suggested I go all the way back to Washington Irving. So I did. Other than a brief sketch in my American Sea Writing anthology, I don’t think I’ve read any Irving since the seventh grade. We did a project on him then, but all I remember about that is my friend making snickerdoodles. What do snickerdoodles have to do with Washington Irving, anyway? Well, on to the story.
“Rip Van Winkle” was so successful in its myth-making function that I probably had the most foreknowledge reading it of anything I’ve read as an adult. I’m always going into things with an awareness of plot, character, theme, but here it felt like reading a story my parents had read me over and over as a child (they did not). I realized I knew not only the broad outline of the tale, but also many of the lesser points, which I wouldn’t have thought to mention if asked to tell the story myself, but were in fact familiar: Rip’s nagging wife and his way with children and dogs, for example. Not that his being henpecked is a minor detail, I just didn’t know I already knew it, if you see what I mean.
But for all that, I don’t feel like I’d ever thought much about what it meant for Rip to sleep away those twenty years. I’d looked on it as a romance, and it is a nice romance, and for me a comforting regional read. I’ve always liked that it’s about these old Dutch settlers of New York, even though Rip lives in
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