Rip Van Winkle’s Republic: Washington Irving in History and Memory

Louisiana State Univ. Sept. 2022. 240p. ed. by Andrew Burstein & Nancy Isenberg. ISBN 9780807177594. $29.95. LIT
Editors and Louisiana State University professors Burstein (The Original Knickerbocker) and Isenberg (White Trash) put together a collection of ten essays intent upon reviving interest in America’s first canonical prose writer, Washington Irving, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his revered collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. These delightful essays situate the scribe of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” within the context of the early formation of the United States, particularly the Hudson Valley region of New York. They also focus on his extended travels abroad and how they helped Europeans better understand Americans. The best pieces (by scholars Michelle Sizemore and Elizabeth L. Bradley) do not shy away from difficult subjects, showing how American “tours” of Europe provided a model for its subsequent colonial and imperialist practices and deftly addressing Irving’s caricatural portrayals of enslaved people. Another highlight is the concluding essay, written by the actor and Irving aficionado Curtis Armstrong (Revenge of the Nerds), on the challenges of adapting Irving’s works for stage and screen.
VERDICT Though from an academic press, this is an accessible and engaging book that should appeal to both Irving experts and neophytes.
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