#AuthorBirthday is a monthly feature, in which I highlight one author each month, mostly the ones I have not yet read. Part of the aim is to get familiar with the author and (hopefully) encourage me to start reading his/her work.
For April, please welcome:
Born into an American merchant class family on April 3, 1783, Washington Irving was a short story writer, biographer, and diplomat. He was born on the same week of America's triumphant defeat over the British in the American War, that his mother named him after General George Washington. Later on when he was 6 y.o., George Washington, as the newly inaugurated President, blessed little Irving - an event which was commemorated in a painting hung in the family home.
From the age of 14, young Irving loved adventure stories and drama. However, the yellow fever outbreak in 1798 made his family sent him to stay in Tarrytown, nearby town of Sleepy Hollow, where he learned about Dutch customs and local ghost stories. In one of his numerous journeys, Irving passed through Catskill Mountains region, which later became the setting of one of his most notable short stories: Rip Van Winkle.
Irving's literary career began in 1802. He wrote commentaries on the city's social and theater scenes for Morning Chronicle under a pseudonym of Jonathan Oldstyle. This is only one of many pseudonyms he would use during his literary career. The famous one might have been Diedrich Knickerbocker. "What a funny way of using the baggy-kneed trousers for boys, as one's pseudonym", you would think? But the word 'knickerbocker' was actually acquired from Irving's first successful novel, published in 1809: A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of Dutch Dynasty by Diedrich Knickerbocker. Irving actually wrote the political satire himself, but to promote it, he created a hoax that "a well-known Dutch historian has been missing". He wrote announcement that if the historian did not return, he (Irving) would publish the manuscript which he had left behind. You could imagine how the readers' curiosity would have been at its highest level when the novel was finally published, that it was instantly a huge success for Irving (I can imagine how Irving would have said laughingly to his friends: Ha! They've bought my trick!" ). Knickerbocker would later be popular nickname for Manhattaners, as well as the piece of fashion as we all know now.
At the same year when he published his successful novel, Irving's seventeen-year-old fiance Mathilda Hoffman died of consumption. Her death deeply affected Irving, that he had never married for the rest of his life. He was known to have said later on: "For years I could not talk on the subject of this hopeless regret; I could not even me tion her name, but her image was continually before me, and I dreamt of her incessantly."
In 1815 Irving returned to Europe, to where earlier he has been sent by his brothers in an extended tour to improve his health. He published his notable works: The Legend in Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle in 1820, as part of the short stories collection titled The Sketch Book, under another pseudonym: Geoffrey Crayon. Washington Irving became one of the first American writers to earn acclaim in Europe. Later on he also encouraged his contemporaries' career: Melville, Poe, Hawthorne.
In 1826 Irving moved to Madrid, and was appointed as Secretary of the US Legation to London, which he served from 1829 to 1832. Some of his notable works during his stay in Spain were A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828) and Tales of the Alhambra, (1832). He served as Ambassador to Spain from 1842 to 1846. In 1859, he still worked on copyright laws, and a biography: Life of George Washington, shortly before his death on November 28, 1859 at his estate.
Nowadays he is crowned as the Father of the American Short Story, which he truly deserved!