2012-2013 Season,  Sleepy Hollow

The Man Behind the Legend: Washington Irving

by Megan Chase, dramaturg

As mentioned in a previous post, our production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is based on a short story of the same name written by the late 18th Century American author, Washington Irving. (The short story is now in public domain and may be read online here.)

Born April 3, 1738 in the newly created United States of America, Irving was named after its first president, George Washington. His name proved to highly appropriate. Just as George Washington was a Founding Father of the country, Irving was a Founding Father of American literature.

Irving was the youngest of eleven children born to William Irving and Sarah Sanders. His father was successful merchant and his mother was the daughter of an English clergyman. Often ill as a child, Irving was encouraged by his parents to spend time outdoors, in the fresh air. In this pursuit, he developed an active imagination wandering the beautiful New England countryside. He “knew every spot where a . . . robbery had been committed, or a ghost seen”. His predilection for the strange and supernatural was further fomented by the rich folklore of the region passed down by early Dutch settlers.

However, Irving first gained predominance for his satirical and humorous writings. The History of New York (1809)written under the comical pseudonym Dietrich Knickerbocker—established Irving’s popularity in the both the U.S. and abroad. His warm, witty, conversational tone found wide appeal.

In addition, Irving also dabbled in nonfiction. During his time in Europe serving as a U.S. diplomat in Spain and England, he wrote several histories–including one about Christopher Columbus. Later, after he returned home to New York, the last book he completed was a biography of his namesake.

Ultimately, Washington Irving profoundly influenced the cultural landscape of the day and remains an important figure in American literary history. We are pleased to bring his famous tale to the BYU stage.

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