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Brander Matthews (1852–1929).  The Short-Story.  1907.

By Washington Irving  (1783–1859)

Notes to Rip Van Winkle

IRVING was the earliest American writer to win fame outside of his own country; and it was fit that he should be liked in England, because he was heir of the British essayists,—Steele and Addison and Goldsmith. His “Sketch-Book,” published in 1819–1820, was a miscellany of essays, sketches, and stories, including “Rip Van Winkle,” which is Irving’s masterpiece in fiction. Although it seems to have been suggested by a German folk-tale, Irving made the legend his own by a fuller appreciation of its possibilities. He told it with a characteristic blending of quaint pathos and of lambent humor. He placed his lovable vagabond in the Catskills, and by so doing he gave us what is perhaps the first American short-story of local color.
The telling of this tale is leisurely, as was Irving’s habit. He was in no hurry, and he liked to linger by the wayside. He said that he considered “a story merely a frame on which to stretch the materials”; and he aimed at “the play of thought and sentiment and language” and “the familiar exhibition of scenes in common life.” This is why his stories, delightful as they are, lack something of the swiftness, of the directness, and of the compactness which we find in the later masters of the short-story form. And yet Irving has here attained the fundamental unity of tone; and “Rip Van Winkle” marks a distinct step in the development of the short-story. Irving had pointed out the path; and those who followed in his footsteps were able to attain a more vigorous simplicity by avoiding the digressions in which he delighted.