Washington Irving (1783–1859)
From Washington Irving: Bracebridge Hall, Tales of a Traveller, The Alhambra
Washington Irving was born 235 years ago today (April 3).
It would be hard to overstate Irving’s influence on subsequent writers. “He was not only the father of the American short story, he was also a pioneer and a dominating influence in the European area of shortened fiction,” contends one textbook from a century ago, while a recently published British reference guide states that he is “the first recognised short story writer, credited with ‘creating’ the modern genre.”
Many of his best-known tales—“Rip Van Winkle” and “Sleepy Hollow” among them—were embedded in books blending fiction, essays, profiles, and travel sketches “told” by Irving’s alter ego, Geoffrey Crayon. Irving ran afoul of readers and critics, however, when he abandoned this formula and published Tales of a Traveller, a collection filled entirely with short stories. For the next three decades, in part discouraged by the book’s reception, Irving turned his attention to other projects, mostly works of history, including biographies of Muhammad, Columbus, Oliver Goldsmith, and a five-volume life of George Washington.
Several of the thirty-odd stories in Tales of a Traveller—especially “The Devil and Tom Walker” and “The Adventure of the German Student”—became more highly regarded with the passage of time. We present as our Story of the Week selection another story from the book, “The Bold Dragoon,” an example of a genre considered an Irving specialty: the comic ghost tale.