The Original Knickerbocker

The Original Knickerbocker

by Andrew Burstein
     
 


Washington Irving-author, ambassador, and Manhattanite-has largely slipped from America’s memory, and yet, his creations are well known. Acclaimed historian Andrew Burstein returns Irving to the context of his native nineteenth century where he was an international celebrity-both a comic genius and the first American to earn his living as an author. Irving…  See more details below

Overview


Washington Irving-author, ambassador, and Manhattanite-has largely slipped from America’s memory, and yet, his creations are well known. Acclaimed historian Andrew Burstein returns Irving to the context of his native nineteenth century where he was an international celebrity-both a comic genius and the first American to earn his living as an author. Irving traveled through Europe and America, excavating tales and writing popular social satire, beloved children’s stories, gothic drama, and picturesque history. He gave his young nation such enduring tales as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. His 1809 burlesque, A History of New York, popularized the figure of jolly old St. Nicholas, and gave birth to the modern American Christmas. Irving was the original “Knickerbocker”; he also coined “Gotham” as the name for New York. By showing Irving as a leading architect of the American personality Burstein has managed to reinvigorate the legacy of one our nation’s most outsized literary talents as well as to help us better understand the country we live in.

Editorial Reviews

Dennis Drabelle
This smart new life of the writer, by University of Tulsa history professor Andrew Burstein, may not inspire you to address your Irving gap, but it ably locates an appealing figure in his place and time.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
University of Tulsa's Burstein, best known for his studies of Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson's Secrets), offers a serviceable biography of another early American celebrity: Washington Irving, whom Burstein credits with creating a national literature and with helping persuade Europeans that America wasn't full of simpletons and savages. Burstein speculates about Irving's inner life: was he gay? Possibly, but Burstein thinks it more likely the writer was simply a bachelor, a respectable role in his time and place. Burstein also helpfully recreates early 19th-century New York, a port city with a population in the tens of thousands. He offers judicious literary analysis, teasing out the roles history and memory play in Irving's work. But Burstein's most significant contribution comes in situating Irving's literary work in its larger social and political context. For example, he argues that Irving's satirical and immensely popular A History of New York (1809)-better known as Knickerbocker's History-established the city as a place with a literary future, and he reads Rip Van Winkle as a symbol of early 19th-century America's energetic, pioneering, adolescent charm. Overall, this is an insightful if not inspiring addition to the cultural history of pre-Civil War America. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The first major biography in a half-century of one of America's first professional writers, from a historian (History/Univ. of Tulsa) who specializes in early America (Jefferson's Secrets, 2005, etc.). Burstein's is a conventional telling of a literary life. He begins with a glance at post-Revolutionary New York, brings his hero onstage, tells his life story, ends with an assessment of his influence. But Irving has long needed such a thorough, sympathetic treatment. Burstein shows the enormous influence of Irving's family (he was the youngest of 11), illustrates thoughtfully his political life (he met presidents, was friends with Aaron Burr, officially served his government, in the U.S. and abroad), chronicles his relationships with iconic colleagues-Walter Scott, Poe, Godwin, Mary Shelley (who, in widowhood, wished for more than mere friendship with Irving), Dickens, Bryant, James Fenimore Cooper (who barked at and bit his fellow New Yorker). Burstein also does an intelligent job of explicating Irving's works-and it's sad to note that he must summarize even "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," neither of which, he says, retains its prominence in the public-school curriculum. Using Irving's volumes of correspondence and travel journals (with the acknowledged help of the scholarly editions of Irving's work prepared decades ago by the Univ. of Wisconsin and Twayne Publishers), Burstein is able to explore the origins of Irving's prose. Irving emerges here as a highly professional, productive and satiric writer who published travel books, sketches, stories, histories, biographies (including his final work, a five-volume life of George Washington, whom he met and for whom he wasnamed). Like other scholars, Burstein is troubled by Irving's sex life. Did he have one? Was he gay? Or was he a stereotypical asexual bachelor uncle who enjoyed the company of women, especially younger ones? Burstein believes the evidence is insufficient to make a definitive answer. An important reassessment of Irving that restores him to his rightful place as a founder of American literature.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465008537
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
03/12/2007
Pages:
440
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.46(h) x 1.28(d)

Meet the Author


Andrew Burstein, a native New Yorker, is the Mary Frances Barnard Professor of 19th-Century U.S. History at the University of Tulsa. He is the author of six books on early America, including The Passions of Andrew Jackson and Jefferson’s Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello. Burstein lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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