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Two American classics: Irving + Thoreau

Washington Irving  [1783 – 1859]
¤  Rip van Winkle

This Washington Irving short-story, published in 1819,  is about a man (Rip Van Winkle) who escapes from his wife’s complaining and nagging by going off into the mountains. While wandering about he meets a strange man carrying a cask of liquor who leads him to a cave where he finds a group of even stranger men. Rip decides to take a taske to this liquor and ends up falling asleep (for 20 years!). Needless to say everything has changed when he finally awakes, and he finds it very difficult to convince the townspeople he is who he claims.

r_v_winkle

•  Summary
The story of Rip Van Winkle is set in the years before and after the American Revolutionary War. In a pleasant village, at the foot of New York’s Catskill Mountains, lives the kindly Rip Van Winkle, a colonial British-American villager of Dutch descent. Rip is an amiable man who enjoys solitary activities in the wilderness, but is also loved by all in town—especially the children to whom he tells stories and gives toys. However, a tendency to avoid all gainful labor, for which his nagging wife (Dame Van Winkle) chastises him, allows his home and farm to fall into disarray due to his lazy neglect.

One autumn day, Rip is escaping his wife’s nagging, wandering up the mountains with his dog, Wolf. Hearing his name being shouted, Rip discovers that the speaker is a man dressed in antiquated Dutch clothing, carrying a keg up the mountain, who requires Rip’s help. Without exchanging words, the two hike up to an amphitheatre-like hollow in which Rip discovers the source of previously-heard thunderous noises: there is a group of other ornately-dressed, silent, bearded men who are playing nine-pins. Although there is no conversation and Rip does not ask the men who they are or how they know his name, he discreetly begins to drink some of their liquor, and soon falls asleep.

He awakes in unusual circumstances: It seems to be morning, his gun is rotted and rusty, his beard has grown a foot long, and Wolf is nowhere to be found. Rip returns to his village where he finds that he recognizes no one. Asking around, he discovers that his wife has died and that his close friends have died in a war or gone somewhere else. He immediately gets into trouble when he proclaims himself a loyal subject of King George III, not knowing that the American Revolution has taken place; George III’s portrait on the town inn has been replaced by that of George Washington. Rip is also disturbed to find another man is being called Rip Van Winkle (though this is in fact his son, who has now grown up).

The men he met in the mountains, Rip learns, are rumored to be the ghosts of Hendrick (Henry) Hudson’s crew. Rip is told that he has apparently been away from the village for twenty years. An old local recognizes Rip and Rip’s now-adult daughter takes him in. Rip resumes his habitual idleness, and his tale is solemnly taken to heart by the Dutch settlers, with other hen-pecked husbands, after hearing his story, wishing they could share in Rip’s good luck, and have the luxury of sleeping through the hardships of war.

•  Characters in the story of Rip Van Winkle

Rip Van Winkle — a henpecked husband who loathes ‘profitable labor’.

Dame Van Winkle — Rip Van Winkle’s cantankerous wife.

Rip Van Winkle Jr.– Rip Van Winkle’s son.

Judith Gardenier — Rip Van Winkle’s daughter.

Derrick Van Bummel — the local schoolmaster and later a member of Congress.

Nicholas Vedder — landlord of the local inn.

Mr. Doolittle — a hotel owner.

Wolf — Rip’s faithful dog

The Ghosts of Henry Hudson and his crew — Ghosts that share purple magic liquor with van Winkle and play a game of ninepins.

¤  Read a PDF edition → Rip van Winkle←

♣ . . . Listen . . .

¤  Henry David Thoreau  [1817 – 1862]

‘Walden’ (click sculpture to listen) is H D Thoreau‘s account of the two years he spent living in a small cabin he built in the woods next to Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. The book roughly follows the seasons of the year, and uses the seasonal changes as a framework in which to talk about wealth, money, academic study, nature, and spirituality.

Thoreau begins with a long chapter on Economy, stating his case for moving to the woods, not paying taxes (for which Thoreau was jailed briefly during his two years at Walden), and surviving only off what he grew on the land near his cabin. A life of simplicity, for which he argues in the first chapter, is a recurring theme throughout the book.

Over the course of the next 17 chapters, Thoreau considers many aspects of the world around Walden. He allows each thing he spends time examining to take his thoughts towards higher moral and intellectual standards, as well as towards a very honest and respectful celebration of nature. He is particularly excited about the character, appearance, and characteristics of Walden Pond, and spends much of the book both describing the pond and singing the praises of its uniqueness.

Not content to limit his observations to the natural world only, Thoreau chronicles his encounters with many hunters, loggers, and other manual laborers who come to the pond. An entire chapter is dedicated to people who once lived near the pond, but have since passed away. He also mentions some of his closest friends and intellectual partners, who regularly pay visits to Thoreau.

Although Thoreau places a higher value on natural observation than anything else, he also places great weight on knowledge, and thoughtful, careful intellectual argument, which he feels is best undertaken in a natural setting. Thoreau quotes from many spiritual books, including Hindu, Christian, Confucian, and Roman writings. He also treats many books on farming, botany, and other aspects of nature as if they were religious texts.

Thoreau concludes the book by writing about truth, which he feels can be found both in nature, and in people who fully live up to their potential. In addition, he reiterates his feeling that people should never presume to be important or exceedingly valuable until they have succeeded in exploring every part, not of the world, but of themselves.

· · · Read & listen ⇒http://etc.usf.edu/lit2go/90/walden-or-life-in-the-woods/

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