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Sanctuaries in Washington Irving's «The Sketch Book»

The Sketch Book


Hugo G. Walter

The present volume comprises a collection of wonderful and insightful essays exploring the theme of sanctuaries in Washington Irving’s The Sketch Book. These are sanctuaries of natural beauty, peacefulness, architectural splendor, and mythical vitality. In addition, the book presents a short history of sanctuaries in nineteenth-century American and European literature.
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In his essay “Style and Fame: The Sketch Book” James W. Tuttleton writes that “Irving’s self-consciousness as a writer is inseparable from his interest in the past. But that interest … is not merely antiquarian: it is obsessively concerned with Irving’s own death and his immortality as an author” (45). Tuttleton also states thoughtfully that “we do not ordinarily associate him with such morbid thoughts” (45). However, it is noteworthy, as Tuttleton says, that “The Sketch Book’s opening account of the voyage from America to England accents fear, anxiety, and estrangement” (45). The confrontation of the unknown, the perilous, and the image of oblivion during the sea voyage to England affirms the anxiety of Irving’s own mind and establishes a tone, an undercurrent, of concern and anguish about mortality which permeates a number of the stories and essays in The Sketch Book. Tuttleton writes insightfully that “Telling the story, retrieving and perpetuating some vestige, through narrative, of a transient existence—this is the burden of many of the tales in The Sketch Book” (46).

In his essay “Washington Irving and the Genesis of the Fictional Sketch” Jeffrey Rubin-Dorsky describes effectively Irving’s state of mind in the development of his approach in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.: “In 1817–1818, while he was in England, he suffered terrible anxiety and emotional ← 1 | 2 → strain over the collapse of the family business and the attendant threat of impoverishment” (229). Moreover, the death of his mother in 1817...

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