Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rip Van Winkle

Michael Fong
Journal #11 Washington Irving
October 26, 2009

"Having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that happy age when a man can do nothing with impunity, he took his place once more on the bench, at the inn door, and was reverenced as one of the patriarchs of the village, and a chronicle of the old times 'before the war.' It was some time before he could get into the regular track of gossip, or could be made to comprehend the strange events that had taken place during his torpor. How that there had been a revolutionary war-that the country had thrown off the yoke of old England-and that, instead of being a subject of his Majesty George the Third, he was now a free citizen of the United States." (Irving 964)

"'Irving is much over-rated', Poe wrote in 1838, 'and a nice distinction might be drawn between his just and his surreptitious and adventitious reputation—between what is due to the pioneer solely, and what to the writer'. A critic for the New-York Mirror wrote: 'No man in the Republic of Letters has been more overrated than Mr. Washington Irving.'"

After spending twenty years in a deep slumber, Rip Van Winkle awakes to the realization that he had been asleep for two decades, instead of what he thought to be a mere night. He returns to the village, and is initially confused over the new surroundings. Eventually, he settles down once again, and gets used to the new America; at the same time he sheds off the notion that the country is still being ruled by a monarch.

It was last quarter, I think, when I mentioned that I once lived in an area in Hong Kong where there are trees growing around, and a big park near the neighborhood. Sadly, due to construction work and the expansion of transportation networks, the park, and ultimately the green wildlife began to disappear before my very eyes. While it may be very heart-rendering, the change never hit me in the face until I compared photos that I took in a similar location a few years before and after. Irving, in "Rip Van Winkle", is in essence doing the very same thing. By "abducting" a man from the time when Britain still ruled and then placing him in the beginning of the United States, he successfully captures the alienation and extreme shift in the structure of the government. For the people who went through this change personally, while they may be aware of such change, the fact that they were living in the moment makes a less impressive narrator than Rip, who missed entirely the whole changing process and only got to witness the start and end products.

Poe mentioned that Irving is overrated. Is he, though? True, he may be retelling a story that has already been created, but does that necessarily make Irving an overrated writer? Who else borrowed stories, reconstructed the elements, retold them, and eventually gained international and critical acclaim? None other than Shakespeare himself. The story of Romeo and Juliet, for instance, is another version of an earlier story written by another writer eighty years before Shakespeare came up with the play. It was not original. But for Irving to retell the story with such eloquent style and to make it resonate with the historical context at that time is in itself an art.

1 comment:

  1. 20 points. I like your defense of Irving against Poe's critique :)