WASHINGTON IRVING AND HIS DUTCH-AMERICAN HERITAGE AS SEEN IN "A HISTORY OF NEW YORK," "THE SKETCH BOOK," "BRACEBRIDGE HALL," AND "TALES OF A TRAVELLER" (FOLKLORE)

ELISABETH PALING FUNK, Fordham University

Abstract

This study investigates Washington Irving's use of Dutch language, literature, and popular culture, set in a historical Dutch-colonial context, in the light of their European ancestry and with the aid of Dutch sources. For the first time, the source of the Knickerbocker History's title page motto is identified as the Spiegel by Jacob Cats, an immensely popular seventeenth-century Dutch poet. The motto's subject is truth; its contrast between light and dark develops as that of reason and imagination. This contrast is maintained throughout the Knickerbocker canon.^ Chapter One analyzes the function of the motto's main elements as Irving manipulates them for his satire.^ Chapter Two provides an original identification of the History's Van Twiller motto as another borrowing from Cats's Spiegel, in which the contexts provide themes for that era and beyond. The motto announces the History's contrast between silence and sound, becomes a focal point of low comedy, and sets the stage for internal strife and warfare between the seventeenth-century colonies. It also establishes the young colony as a bucolic Eden and, like the title page motto, underscores Knickerbocker's nostalgia.^ Chapters Three and Four analyze the History's incidents of Dutch colonial customs and folk beliefs. Parallel Dutch lore illustrate that Irving's Hudson Valley culture is basically Old World Dutch. These incidents serve Irving's comic intent or support his major themes. For example, the Dutch St. Nicholas is transformed into a New Netherland deity, a counterpart of the ancient gods that populate Irving's mock epic. The eventual blending of diverse customs and folk beliefs depicts the genesis of an American popular culture, which in part consists of Irving's fiction.^ Chapter Five similarly analyzes "Rip Van Winkle," "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," "The Storm-Ship," "Dolph Heyliger," and "Wolfert Webber." Although their focus is Hudson Valley Dutch popular culture, each of these literary folk tales presents a realistic theme.^ Three appendices list and explain Irving's use of Dutch language, popular culture, and names in the Knickerbocker canon. This study demonstrates Irving's greater familiarity with Dutch than the little with which he has been previously credited. ^

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

FUNK, ELISABETH PALING, "WASHINGTON IRVING AND HIS DUTCH-AMERICAN HERITAGE AS SEEN IN "A HISTORY OF NEW YORK," "THE SKETCH BOOK," "BRACEBRIDGE HALL," AND "TALES OF A TRAVELLER" (FOLKLORE)" (1986). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8615695.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8615695

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