Places: Rip Van Winkle

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1819-1820 (in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.)

Type of work: Short fiction

Type of plot: Tall tale

Time of work: Eighteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedDutch village

Dutch Rip Van Winklevillage. Unnamed village of Dutch settlers in New York that is the home of Rip Van Winkle, who sleeps in the woods for twenty years and then returns to the village. Rip’s twenty-year absence from the village gives Irving a chance to reflect and comment on changes that occurred in the United States between the period shortly before the American Revolution and the early years of the independent republic.

Irving first describes the village as one of “great antiquity,” founded by the original Dutch colonists who settled in New York. The village rests at the foot of the Catskill Mountains and seems to be a charming and quaint place. Its people are friendly and–except for the henpecked Rip–happy. When Rip escapes from his wife’s nagging, he plays with the children of the village and runs errands for all the goodwives. All the village dogs know him and greet him. The familiarity and friendliness of the village before Rip’s sleep is shown so that Irving can contrast it with Rip’s return from the mountain. When Rip returns from his long nap, children stare at him and mock him, and dogs bark at him.

Before Rip’s sleep, the village had a “busy, bustling, disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquillity.” Rip returns when an election is taking place, and villagers want to know for whom he is voting. The town’s former tranquillity has been usurped by the new politics. Rip eventually comes to grip with these changes, even if he does not quite understand them. He even takes his place as a patriarch of the village on the bench. He settles into place and his new role, much like the new country he encounters.

Village inn

Village inn. Besides moving the plot along, the changes in the village after Rip’s sleep also provide a pointed look at the changes in the new republic. Before Rip’s twenty year absence, the center of town was an old inn sporting a portrait of England’s King George III. On a bench in front of the inn, the elders and idle of the village would gather and discuss events. The innkeeper, Nicholas Vedder, presided over the gatherings and let his feelings on the discussions be known by how he smoked his pipe. Outside the inn stood a great tree that shaded the building. When Rip returns, the inn has changed, and definitely for the worse. Its great tree is gone, replaced by “a tall naked pole” from which hangs a strange flag. The old inn itself has been replaced by a “large rickety wooded building . . . with great gaping windows, some of them broken and mended with old hats and petticoats.” It is no longer the old country inn, but the Union Hotel. King George’s portrait has been painted over with one of George Washington.

*Kaatskill (Catskill) Mountains

*Kaatskill (Catskill) Mountains. New York range bordering the village. From the beginning of the story, Irving describes the beauty of the mountains and gives them a magical air as he describes them as “fairy mountains.” Rip goes up on a mountain to hunt and avoid his nagging wife. The mountain is also the home of the somber Henrik Hudson and his men who play at ninepins. In a hidden amphitheater, the strange little men drink wine and play their game. Rip also helps himself to the wine which leads to his twenty-year sleep. He awakens outside the amphitheater only to find the scenery changed. The use of the Catskills, a chain familiar to American readers of Irving’s time, helped to Americanize the German folktale.

BibliographyBowden, Mary Weatherspoon. Washington Irving. Boston: Twayne, 1981. A general introduction to the work, including a chronology and an annotated bibliography. Bowden emphasizes the integrity of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., in which “Rip Van Winkle” first appeared, and suggests that Irving’s greatest literary accomplishment was his style.Hedges, William L. Washington Irving: An American Study, 1802-1832. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965. Although Hedges believes that Irving reached an intellectual dead end by 1825, he asserts that in his greatest works, including “Rip Van Winkle,” Irving stands as an important forerunner in style to Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James and in narrative and thematic concerns to Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville.Myers, Andrew B., ed. A Century of Commentary on the Works of Washington Irving. New York: Sleepy Hollow Restorations, 1976. A representative sampling of critical writing about Irving.Roth, Martin. Comedy and America: The Lost World of Washington Irving. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1976. Argues that “Rip Van Winkle” is one of the few exceptions to a decline in Irving’s work already underway by the writing of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.Rubin-Dorsky, Jeffrey. Adrift in the Old World: The Psychological Pilgrimage of Washington Irving. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. Emphasizes the “Americanness” of Irving, the way he was shaped by, and came to identify himself with, his country and its particular heritage. The tale Irving tells in “Rip Van Winkle” reenacts Americans’ doubts about identity and their fantasies of escape.
Categories: Places