Transnational Narrativity and Pastoralism in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. by Washington Irving
Hanssen, Jessica Allen
MetadataShow full item record
Washington Irving’s collection, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819-20), was one of the earliest and most influential texts to have achieved acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. Its most famous stories, which include “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” are considered to be classics in their own right and are still popular. At the heart of the collection, however, is its narrator Geoffrey Crayon, a New Yorker travelling to England, and especially London, for the first time in order to experience its grand museums and libraries, its stunning architecture, and the sedate yet rarified country house lifestyle of the landed gentry: in short, all of the things he could not have experienced in contemporary America. Once in England, however, Crayon is struck by his increasing feelings of exile and loneliness, and retreats into his artistic intentions as solace. Notably, the collection’s most enduring stories in the collection are set in America: even as Crayon distances himself physically from his homeland he is drawn to it as an artistic subject, as though he cannot really see America until he leaves it. This feeling of artistic exile, as presented in The Sketch Book, is strikingly modern in tone for a text which is over 170 years old, and not only precedes later literary expatriations but anticipates developments in narrative studies, with respect to short-story theory and the composite novel. Irving negotiates the preferences, assumptions, and historical experience of each audience by steeping his social and cultural criticism in the universal realms of storytelling and mythology. In an age of emergent cultural nationalism, Irving seeks to establish both himself and his narrator as transatlantic writers. His desire to craft a truly transatlantic work, however, becomes a blatantly pastoral act, which turns the very presence of narrative into an anachronism. In our own time of emergent cultural nationalism, recent critical revival of Irving has explored his position as a postcolonial writer, but without the fullest realization of the narrative theories that bring to the fore precisely how Irving’s work manages the diverse needs of its transatlantic audiences, or without much consideration of its fictive author. A reading of specifically transnational sketches from The Sketch-Book from the perspective of contemporary narrative theory, but informed by their place in time, identifies and foregrounds the significance of the sociopolitical narrativity and literary pastoralism that emerges from Irving’s – and Crayon’s – transatlanticism.