The sources of "Rip Van Winkle" by Washington Irving and its influence on Max Frisch’s novel "Stiller"


Seminar Paper, 1973
24 Pages, Grade: 1,0

Excerpt

Table of contents

INTRODUCTION

I. WASHINGTON IRVING'S USE OF HIS GERMAN SOURCE AND THE VARYING APPRAISALS OF THE CRITICS

II. WASHINGTON IRVING'S INFLUENCE ON GERMAN AUTHORS IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

III. MAX FRISCH'S USE OF "RIP VAN WINKLE"

IV. THE ISSUE: RIP'S "IDENTITY" PROBLEM

FOOTNOTES

APPENDIX

INTRODUCTION

Washington Irving and Germany is the title of an extant book publication by Walter A, Reichert. The work was printed in 1957 and is a scholarly and deserving account of Irving's knowledge of German books, German authors, the German language; as well as of his travels through Germany of which it faithfully retraces every step. It will not (and cannot), of course, be the purpose of my short paper either to outdo Reichart's research or to just summarize the contents of his book. Instead, I will single out "Rip Van Winkle”, the story that is widely considered as one of Irving's greatest achievements, and expound it in what I hope is a new, though odd way, with the assistance of a reverberation which this little tale has had in the writings of the modern Swiss German author Max Frisch, I am convinced that to draw certain conclusions from the influence a given work of literature exerts on later works of literature is as legitimate in literary interpretation as to infer anything from the use to which an author puts his source material. Or, with different words: I believe that Frisch's modern exploitation of the "Rip Van Winkle" story may shed as much new light on Irving's achievement as the comparison between "Rip Van Winkle” and its German source in the tale of "Peter Klaus, the Goatherd" has done.

I. WASHINGTON IRVING'S USE OF HIS GERMAN SOURCE AND THE VARYING APPRAISALS OF THE CRITICS

The research on Irving's German source for his "Rip VanWinkle" has been satisfactorily done over the past 150 years. Therefore I will just insert here the following chronology of the appraisal of “Rip Van Winkle" and of the identification of its source:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

This list, though long and cumbersome, is probably not exhaustive. One feature that emerges very well, I think, out of my compilation is the fact that literary research, even at a scholarly level, is largely redundant and little coordinated.

Several conclusions can be drawn from the list:

1. Irving's source has been positively identified as early as March 1822 as J.G. Büsching's Volks-Sagen, Märchen und Legenden, Leipzig, 1812, pp.327~331. A copy of Büsching's book is still among the collection at Sunnyside, NY., Irving's home, now turned into a museum.

2. It does not appear very obvious at first sight why Irving thought it expedient as early as 1822, when he published Bracebridge Hall, to defend himself against what he thought were, charges with plagiarism. According to Reichart, it was "not until after the publication of Bracebridge Hall and Tales of a Travellor” that Irving was "subjected to frequent criticism for a lack of originality in his writing and for a dependence upon literary materials which he refurbished before publishing as his ow."5 What so far has been brought to light as "charges" against "Rip Van Winkle" between 1820 and 1822 is a) the above-mentioned article in The London Magazine of March 1822, reprinted by The Port Folio of Philadelphia of the same year, containing the translation into English of the "Peter Klaus" tale, "which is offered to our readers, not only on the score of its intrinsic merit but as being the undoubted source from which Geoffrey Crayon drew his Rip Van Winkle;" b) a letter by a certain Wm.

Bainbrigge to the editor of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, printed in vol. IX, May 1821, p.225, of that periodical and containing the following statement: "The American tale of Ripvanwinkle's sleep, which has, no doubt, been perused by most of your readers, in the 'Sketch Book,' bears so close a resemblance in its circumstances to that related of Epimenides, that I cannot but think the author must have had the latter before him." Is there a charge with plagiarism in these remarks? Not really, I think, though they certainly convey the idea of an experience of deception undergone by these magazine contributors: a deception that this little sketch, which they had found so beautiful when they first read it, was not genuinely American, after all. Irving, for his part, seems to have been very sensitive to the mere identification of European sources for his American tale as it he had felt that his whole reputation as an American writer, whose achievement could measure against the greatest European works of his time, was thereby threatened. Thus, the whole problem of American literature struggling towards its own distinctive features seems to be involved.

3. While part of the scholars tried very hard to identify Irving's exact source with more or less success, another part thought it more important to point to Irving's indebtedness to general folklore (Thompson, Rodes, Cameron)„ The reasons of the one or the other of these approaches, never clearly given by the critics, to me seem to be the following:

a) The exact identification of Irving's source would serve to compare Irving's merits with that of the source. Now, though the text of the source and a summary of "Rip Van Winkle” were collated in 1930 and though Irving's achievement has been praised over and over in a general way, a thorough "structural" and stylistic analysis of Irving's tale which would assert and determine its accomplishment in contents and form in comparison to the German source seems still to be lacking.

b) To point out "Rip Van Winkle"'s relatedness to not only one specific source but to a numerous host of folk legends of all times and countries would seem to imply that it could be reduced to some sort of universal truth and general meaning. This is done by K.W. Cameron who thinks that the motif of "Rip Van Winkle" has a "relevance to neurotic components of the Romantic Movement" and in Philip Young's psychoanalytic interpretation.6

The main task of the investigators, however, so far seems to have been just to accumulate, differentiate, and classify stories bearing some resemblance to "Rip Van Winkle". But the reduction and comparison of one legend to another turns in a circle and will lead to no overwhelming results. As Freud said: "The question is not exhausted, for we do not share the belief of some investigators that myths were read in the heavens und brought down to earth; we are more inclined to judge . that they were projected on to the heavens after having arisen elsewhere under purely human conditions, It is in this human content that our interest lies."7

An English translation of the "Peter Klaus' tale was published for the last time, apparently, in 1826. I will, therefore, here insert not the whole text which would be too long, but at least Bayard Taylor's précis of 1868:

Peter Klaus, a shepherd of Sittendorf, pastured his herd on the Kyffhäuser, and was in the habit of collecting the animals at the foot of an old ruined wall. He noticed that one of his goats regularly disappeared for some hours every day;

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Details

Title
The sources of "Rip Van Winkle" by Washington Irving and its influence on Max Frisch’s novel "Stiller"
College
University of Massachusetts - Amherst  (English Department)
Course
English 750, Early American Literature, Professor Lowance, Fall Semester, 1973
Grade
1,0
Author
Year
1973
Pages
24
Catalog Number
V511396
ISBN (eBook)
9783346083296
ISBN (Book)
9783346083302
Language
English
Tags
Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle, Max Frisch, Stiller
Quote paper
Reiner Ruft (Author), 1973, The sources of "Rip Van Winkle" by Washington Irving and its influence on Max Frisch’s novel "Stiller", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/511396

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