Washington Irving: The Alhambra His inspiration to write the tales

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2001

11 Pages, Grade: 2 (B)


Tables Of Contents

1. Preface

2. Introduction

3. The Life of Washington Irving

4. The Alhambra

5. Irving’s Motivation to Write the Tales

6. Conclusion

7. Literature

1. Preface

Washington Irving was the first among American writers to obtain universal recognition abroad, he was the first true literary artist and the earliest “classic”. It is Washington Irving who belongs the honour of successfully developing a native literature in works which still preserve their freshness, their delicacy, and their charm. To the inspiration of native themes, Irving owed much of his ample success.

Irving enjoyed visiting different places and a large part of his live he spent in Europe, particularly England, France, Germany and Spain. He often wrote about the places he visited. This piece of work deals especially with one of Irving’s most famous books, The Alhambra, a great Moorish castle in Granada, Spain. The main interest here will be his life which was too interesting, influential and lively to ignore and Irving’s motivation to write The Tales about The Alhambra.

2. Introduction

Washington Irving earned his reputation as a major author by creating the short story. Later authors learned from and fashioned their short stories after his works. Irving was not boastful about his works. Instead, he had this to say, "If the tales I have furnished should prove to be bad, they will at least be found short".

Irving’s early works set an example for humorous writing, which later became an important part of American literature. In addition, Irving helped establish the short story as a popular literature for the United States.

He also had a way of combining folklore with romanticism in his literary works. His contributions helped to create America's romantic literary movement.

Under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker Washington Irving wrote A History of New York (1809), perhaps America's first great book of comic literature. Dietrich Knickerbocker was supposed to be an eccentric Dutch-American scholar. The name Knickerbocker was later used to identify the first American school of writers, the “Knickerbocker Group”, of which Irving was a leading figure.[1]

The book became part of New York folklore, and eventually the word “Knickerbocker” was also used to describe any New Yorker who could trace one’s family to the original Dutch settlers.

Irving’s reputation at home and abroad was established with the essays in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon (1820), including such tales as Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Washington Irving surely was a gentle satirist who was master of a graceful, sophisticated style, he created some of the most popular essays and tales in American literature. The American romanticist has been shaped in Europe, where he had stayed for about 17 years. While a diplomat in Madrid (1826-29), he wrote several works on Spanish subjects, among them the charming sketches in The Alhambra (1832). Tales of The Alhambra, was first published in London in the first week of May, 1832. This book, undoubtedly benefiting from his stays in Spain was to climax his career-within-a-career as a teller of lively traveller’s tales and fashioner of colourful legends.[2]

“Spain”, he said, “equals all my expectations as to the peculiarities of the country and the people.”[3]

3. The Life of Washington Irving

Washington Irving was born on April 3, 1783 in New York City as the youngest of eleven children. His father was a wealthy merchant, and his mother, an English woman, was the granddaughter of a clergyman. For the first thirty-two years of his life New York was his home, his education, his inspiration, his material. Here he won his reputation as a humorist and later on as New York’s best known literary figure.[4]

Irving’s training was desultory, and his schooling ended at sixteen. This cutting short of the school-days was due to the state of his health in these early years, which forbade confinement or close association with books. Early in his life Irving developed a passion for books. He read Robinson Crusoe, Sinbad the Sailor, and The World Displyed mostly stories about voyages and travels. He studied law privately in the offices of Henry Masterton (1798), Brockholst Livingston (1801), and John Ogde Hoffman (1802), but practised only briefly. From 1804 to 1806 he travelled widely Europe.[5]

In 1798, he thoroughly explored that idyllic region of Sleepy Hollow, afterward immortalised in the Sketch-Book. In the wide circle of his friendships, he was a conspicuous and favourite figure, admired for his genial, happy gayety, and for his warmth and kindliness of heart. His first contributions to literature were made at this time.

Irving’s career as a writer started in journals and newspapers. He contributed to Morning Chronicle (1802-03), which was edited by his brother Peter Irving, and published Salmagundi (1807-08), writing in collaboration with his brother William Irving and James Kirke Paulding. From 1812 to 1814 he was an editor of Analetic magazine in Philadelphia and New York.

In 1804, Washington Irving was sent abroad by his brothers, who were anxious over the condition of his health in order to spend some time in spas in Germany and France. On this first visit, Irving was absent a year and a half. He touched at the Mediterranean ports and incidentally enjoyed the experience of a real capture by pirates. He sojourned four months in Paris, and the same length of time in London and Dresden. He made acquaintance with many distinguished people and drank joyously of the romance of the Old World as found in its scenery, its manners, its languages, its literature, and its art. The experience was in every way broadening and educational; the young Irving became a man of the world. Pleased and stimulated as well as restored in health, he returned to America early in 1806.

In 1826, Irving went to Madrid. Most attractive of all the Spanish series was-- The Alhambra (1832). This last volume is another "sketch-book." For a short period of time Irving dwelt within the walls of this historic structure under the spell of its beautiful architecture and its romantic associations; haunting its marble halls, gazing from lofty windows over the surrounding landscape, or pacing at evening through its deserted gardens, it is no wonder that his imagination kindled in the glow of ancient splendour until he wrote in poetic strain of the moonlit nights in this enchanted palace.[6]


[1] http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap3/irving.html

[2] R.D. Rust (ed.): The Alhambra: The complete works of Washington Irving. Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1983.

[3] Rubin-Dorsky, J.: The Psychological Pilgrimage of Washington Irving. The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London, 1988. p. 217.

[4] Weatherspoon Bowden, M.: Washington Irving. Twayne Publishers, A Division of G.K. Hall&Co, Boston, 1981. p. 13.

[5] http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/wirving.htm

[6] http://www.hudsonvalley.org/education/Background/abt_irving/abt_irving.html

Excerpt out of 11 pages


Washington Irving: The Alhambra His inspiration to write the tales
Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel  (English Institute)
2 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
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418 KB
Washington, Irving, Alhambra
Quote paper
Katja Hartmann (Author), 2001, Washington Irving: The Alhambra His inspiration to write the tales, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/6359


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