Washington Irving (1783 – 1859) was born in New York City and was named after President George Washington (1732–1799).. He was a dreamy boy who was fascinated by the theatre and who loved reading and wandering around the misty Hudson River Valley: the local tales and legends of this area just north of New York City will influence his writings.
At nineteen-year-old, Irving began writing letters for his brother Peter’s newspaper under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle. His first book was Salmagundi (1807–08), written with his brother, William, and their friend James Kirke Paulding. He got fame with A History of New York in 1809, a comical and imprecise story of New York’s Dutch colonization narrated by another pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, a Dutch American.
In 1815 Irving moved to England. Here he tried to save the Liverpool branch of the family import-export business, but after three years the company was bankrupt, and he found himself without means of support at age thirty-five. So Irving decided to get his living by writing and started recording the impressions, thoughts, and descriptions, which then became the material of The Sketch Book, published under the pseudonym of Geoffrey Crayon.
The Sketch Book is a collection of English sketches, travel pieces, literary essays, descriptions of the American Indian, some unclassifiable pieces, and three short stories – Rip Van Winkle, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and The Spectre Bridegroom.
Still in Europe Irving wrote Bracebridge Hall; or, the Humorists: A Medley (1822), about a fictitious English clan already introduced in The Sketch Book.
After 1824 Irving started writing about history and biography. In Spain, he wrote a book about the life of Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) and a history of Granada, Spain. In 1832 he returned to the United States where he toured around western part of the country, as far as Oklahoma. The expedition was described in three books, but particularly important is A Tour on the Prairies (1835), which provided easterners with their first description of western life : then the author settled near New York, in t a small estate on the Hudson River, named Sunnyside.
In his last years, Irving published an extensive biography of George Washington (1732–1799), which he worked on until his death.
an artistic standard and model for later generations of American short story writers.
Among Irving’s best-known legends is Rip Van Winkle, in which a man from New York’s Catskill Mountains falls asleep before the beginning of the Revolution and wakes up after it is over to find his world happily transformed. In The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a headless horseman drives an embarrassed and naive schoolteacher named Ichabod Crane from his small New York town.
Another story of settlers was told by the American author Washington Irving (1783 – 1859) . it is the tale of Rip Van Winkle which appeared in the short story collection The Sketch Book (1819). Ripa Van Winkle is a colonial British-American villager of Dutch descent (= discendenza). He lives in a pleasant village, at the foot (= ai piedi) of New York’s “Kaatskill” Mountains. Everybody loves Rip even if he prefers spending his time doing solitary activities in the wilderness (= località selvage). His irritating wife, on the contrary, Dame Van Winkle, is always reproaching (= lo sgrida sempre) him because he does not do his duty (= dovere) at the farm (= fattoria).
One autumn day, Rip is wandering through ( = vagabondando) the wood with his dog Wolf, when he hears a voice calling his name. It is a man dressed in old Dutch clothing, (= vestiti), who needs his help because he is carrying a barrel (= barile) up the mountain. The strange man leads Rip to a large cave (= caverna) where other men like are playing and drinking . Rip joins them, plays and drinks with them without speaking. Then he falls asleep (= si addormenta).
When he awakes (= si sveglia) Rip finds himself in a strange situation: it is morning, his gun is very old and rusty (= arruginito), he is wearing a long beard (= barba) and his dog Wolf has disappeared. Rip returns to his village, but he does not recognize anyone. He starts asking questions: his wife, his friends, all of them died. A war has taken place, the American Revolution and the English King George III’s portrait on the town inn (= locanda) has been replaced (= rimpiazzato) by that of George Washington. And another man is called Rip Van Winkle: it is his son now grown up (= cresciuto) . Eventually (= alla fine) Rip learns the truth: the men he met were the ghosts of Hendrick (Henry) Hudson’s crew and he was away for about twenty years. Soon he is recognized and his adult daughter takes him home. Rip resumes (= riprende) his habitual laziness (= abituale pigrizia) while the other villagers hope to be as lucky as Rip was and have the chance (= opportunità) to sleep through the sufferings of war.
Ichabod Crane is another protagonist of a story by Washington Irving that links (= unisce) old frontier legends with gothic elements, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
1790s. Tarry Town is a Ductch settlement (= colonia) near New York. Ichabod Crane is a tall and thin school master in love with 18-year-old Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of a wealthy farmer. But he is not the only one who wants to merry her. Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt , the town rowdy (= bullo) has proposed (= le ha chiesto di sposarlo) her, too. On an October night, after a party at the Van Tassel home, Ichabod is pursued by the Headless Horseman (= il cavaliere senza testa) , the ghost of a soldier killed by a cannon ball during the American Revolution who at night looks for his head. Ichabod disappears and Katrina marries Brom Bones. Nobody knows what has happened to Ichabod, and if the Headless Horseman really exists, but Brom seemed to be very sure about his future
In 1999 Tim Burton shot a film loosely inspired by the tale. In the movie Ichabod Crane is a New York City police constable sent to the village of Sleepy Hollow, to investigate a series of brutal slayings. All the victims are found without their heads. Crane is a pioneer of new techniques such as finger-printing and autopsies and is persecuted by the visions of his mother tortured by his father because considered a witch.
At Sleepy Hollow he is informed that the murderer is probably a ghost who rides at night on a massive black stallion. He rents a room at the home of the town’s richest family, the Van Tassels, where he meets – and eventually falls in love with Katrina. Crane doe not believe in the supernatural stories, and discovers the Horseman’s grave in the Western Woods, where there is the natural world to and from the supernatural — the knotted (= contorto) Tree of the Dead. He finds a lot of skulls, only the skull of the Headless Horseman lacks. At the end the truth is unveiled: Katrina’s stepmother is controlling the ghjost of the headless Horseman because she has his skull. He wants back a piece of land unjustly claimed by Katrina’s father and sends the killer after Katrina.
Crane stops Lady Van Tassel giving back the skull to the Horseman, who goes back to the Hell. regains his head and heads back to Hell along with his enslaver. And he goes back to new York with Katrina
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was based on a German folktale set in the Dutch culture of Post-Revolutionary War in New York State. The original folktale was recorded by Karl Musäus. An excerpt of Musäus:
The headless horseman was often seen here. An old man who did not believe in ghosts told of meeting the headless horseman coming from his trip into the Hollow. The horseman made him climb up behind. They rode over bushes, hills, and swamps. When they reached the bridge, the horseman suddenly turned into a skeleton. He threw the old man into the brook and sprang away over the treetops with a clap of thunder.
The dénouement of the fictional tale is set at the bridge over the Pocantico River in the area of the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow. The characters of Ichabod Crane and Katrina Van Tassel may have been based on local residents known to the author. The character of Katrina is thought to have been based upon Eleanor Van Tassel Brush, in which case her name is derived from that of Eleanor’s aunt Catriena Ecker Van Texel.
Irving, while he was an aide-de-camp to New York Gov. Daniel D. Tompkins, met an army captain named Ichabod Crane in Sackets Harbor, New York during an inspection tour of fortifications in 1814. He may have patterned the character in “The Legend” after Jesse Merwin, who taught at the local schoolhouse in Kinderhook, further north along the Hudson River, where Irving spent several months in 1809.
The story was the longest one published as part of The Sketch Book, which Irving issued using the pseudonym “Geoffrey Crayon” in 1820.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” follows a tradition of folk tales and poems involving a supernatural wild chase, including Robert Burns’s Tam O’ Shanter (1790), and Bürger’s Der wilde Jäger, translated as The Wild Huntsman (1796).