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Halloween Reading - Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne

''The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'' takes place in Sleepy Hollow, New York, a snug rural valley near Tarry town in the Catskill Mountains. Constructed from German tales but set in America, it is a classic tale of the conflict between city and country, and between brains and brawn. Ichabod Crane courts Katrina Van Tassel, but is frightened away by his rival, Brom Bones, masquerading as the headless horseman. The story demonstrates the two qualities for which Irving is best known: his humor, and his ability to create vivid descriptive imagery. Readers immediately took to ''The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’’ and another tale from the Sketch Book, ‘‘Rip Van Winkle.’’ Although little formal criticism greeted the arrival of the story specifically, the Sketch Book became wildly popular and widely reviewed both in the United States and in England. It was the first book by an American writer to become popular outside the United States, and helped establish American writing as a serious and respectable literature. In 1864, ‘‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'' was published as a separate illustrated volume for the first time, and there have been dozens of editions since. Today, most of Irving's work has been largely forgotten, but the characters of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman have lived on as part of American folklore. Nathaniel Hawthorne's
The House of the Seven Gables is, as the author notes in a short preface to the novel, a romance. The story thus, as Hawthorne states, includes fantastical occurrences, improbabilities, and attempts to connect the past with the present, sacrificing literal authenticity for more abstract truths. The connection between the past and the present is the most pressing of Hawthorne's concerns in The House of the Seven Gables, which begins with the checkered history of the eponymous house. The house was constructed during the Puritan era in New England by the prominent Colonel Pyncheon. He acquired the property through dubious means: the property on which the house was built was originally owned by Matthew Maule, a relatively obscure man who was often called a wizard. Soon after Matthew Maule refused to sell the property to Colonel Pyncheon, he was charged with witchcraft and burned; Colonel Pyncheon led the charge against him, and thus acquired the property. Years later, Colonel Pyncheon himself died suspiciously, with a bloody hand-print on his throat. The Pyncheon family seemed poised to remain prominent, yet the family steadily declined throughout the subsequent generations. However, every generation or so another Pyncheon appeared who seemed to possess Colonel Pyncheon's characteristics and would instill hope that the Pyncheons would return to their former glory once more. Yet the most recent notable occurrence in the family history was the murder of a Pyncheon by his nephew years before.

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  • Terry

    I enjoyed the meetup- fruitful discussion; I hadn't finished the Hawthorne book, but the insights shared made me excited to get to the end.

    October 27, 2010

  • Robert

    I'm so sorry I can't make this meetup. I finished House on Sunday, and I thought it was great. I wonder what you all think of it? I know the plot may seem a bit staid, but you have to remember the time in which it was written, Even so, the imagery is wonderful, and the scene where the Judge is sitting in the chair, and the room is slowly fading to black is so cinematic, it gives you chills. Hope you have a great discussion and a very Happy Halloween to one and all!

    October 26, 2010

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