Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Review: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving

Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories (Penguin Classics)Title: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories

Author: Washington Irving

Pages: 190

Source: Personal library

Rating: 8/10


Washington Irving is one of the most read and the most unread of authors. In his own day, of course, he was very widely read both in America and England. His writings caught the current fancy for romanticism, for local color, for sentiment, for nostalgia, for humor. In spite of this past popularity, it is doubtful how much of Irving's writing is still read today. Dust-covered sets of Irving's complete works probably appear in the second-hand bookstores as often as do those of Longfellow of Lowell, or any of the other traditional classics of American literature whose reputations have been revised downwards in recent years. Yet a few of Irving's writings, above all "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," are still very widely read. It is a rare general anthology of the short story that does not contain one or both of these stories, but it is an even rarer one that has anything more by Irving. A collection such as this one, which ranges more generously over Irving's whole work, may not only teach us why Irving was once so popular but may suggest that Irving has more to offer a modern reader than just his two most famous stories.

My Two Cents:

I've grown up hearing "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle," but never read them in their entirety. It's very obvious that, in the telling and re-telling, things get a little twisted from the originals.

I liked the two most popular stories well enough, but there are several great stories in this short anthology. Irving wove many different types of tales, from suspenseful thrillers to stories of early American life.

My favorite probably was "The Specter Bridegroom," which tells the story of a young woman's plans to marry a soldier who is engaged in battle on his wedding night. I won't give anything away, but, even though the ending is somewhat expected, it is still a suspenseful and well-written story.

I can see why Irving isn't as widely read as he used to be. His language and writing style certainly are archaic and don't appeal to a very broad modern audience. But, once you're able to get past the fact that he wrote nearly 200 years ago, you will find some enjoyable, original stories from one of the first masters of American literature.


Mystica said...

I've heard about Sleepy Hollow but never actually read it. I should try to unearth a book. Shouldn't be too hard to do.

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