This collection of short stories was initially published as The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. and was one of the first literary works by an American author to be published or read in Europe. Despite being written by an American most of the short stories reflect on English life, only a few are specifically set in America.
Irving’s stories are mostly lovely tales of rural English life, but he occasionally branches into gothic tales, which themselves mostly derive from German folk tales. Irving used the pseudonym ‘Geoffrey Crayon’, and most of the stories are written through the eyes of this character. This is the continuing charm of this collection, it often feels like you are reading the notes of a real person instead of a an author.
Washington Irving also used this book to present the stories of a Dutch historian who had disappeared in New York, Diedrich Knickerbocker. The name ‘Knickerbocker’ is now seen as a nickname for New Yorkers, and is even used by the cities NBA team. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle are both attributed to Knickerbocker, and are the two most famous of Irving’s stories. These two stories are very derivative of European ghost or horror stories, but with an American twist, they are also both fairly amusing for a 21st Century reader.
In this post I won’t go into more detail as I’m not a massive fan of short story collections. These are interesting but I’m not sure this collection is my favourite, some of the tales are actually fairly dull and of little interest.