Sleepy Hollow ~ Question #1 ~ Style

by Washington Irving

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Sleepy Hollow ~ Question #1 ~ Style

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Oct 17, 2005 8:32 am

Attention, class!!! Welcome to our discussion of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow! :bounce: Your 10 page essay papers will be due on Friday and grades will be posted on the door of The Pit when I get around to it…
:grin:

In the mean time, here is question #1.

What do you think of Irving’s writing style? Any favorite passages?

(Just in case you haven't done your homework...
:-O you can click the link in the calendar announcement posted at the top of the ONBC board to read the story.)
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Unread postby Bix » Mon Oct 17, 2005 10:47 am

I really enjoyed reading this story again, as I had forgotten just how much I love Irving's style of writing. If I had to pick one word to describe it, I guess I would say "lush". His descriptions of people and places are so vivid, so evocative, that it is easy to picture it all. And his wry sense of humor just pervades the whole story. It occurs to me that Washington Irving could be doing some gonzo short story writing here, with his use of the ever-present author throughout the story.

I love his description of Ichabod, of course. "The cognomen of Crane was not inapplicable to his person" is such an understated and humorous introduction to the almost overstated description that follows. . ."hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels..."

(It's a good thing my boss is still away, as I could go on for hours about this - but I'll try not to! :blush: )

I just keep finding other descriptive passages that are so powerful and almost sneaky in the way they give us more pictures and information. Take the scene where Ichobad has stayed late at the school reading Cotton Mather's tales of witchcraft and then has to get himself home: "Then, as he wended his way, by swamp and stream and awful woodland. . .every sound of nature, at that witching hour, fluttered his excited imagination: the moan of the whip-poor-will. . ., the boding cry of the tree-toad. . .the dreary hooting of the screech owl." Just look at the words he has used to evoke a feeling in us: awful woodland, moan, boding cry, dreary hooting.

The Van Tassel farm description is my very favorite, I think. I'm so glad you posted the pictures of Irving's own house, DITHOT, because it is just as whimsical as the one he creates here on the page. "Hard by the farmhouse was a vast barn, that might have served for a church; every window and crevice of which seemed bursting forth with the treasures of the farm. . ." which he then just goes nuts describing, culminating in the hilarious passage where Ichabod approaches the farm: "The pedagogue's mouth watered, as he looked upon this sumptuous pomise of luxurious winter fare. In his devouring mind's eye, he pictured to himslef every roasting-pig running about with a pudding in his belly, and an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie. . ." and on and on.

Okay, I'll stop now. For awhile, at least.
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Oct 17, 2005 12:02 pm

It is beautifully descriptive, isn't it! Very flowery and as you said vivid, you can picture yourself in those spots.
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Unread postby Endora » Mon Oct 17, 2005 12:16 pm

I found the story too long on description and too slow on plot. He seemed to enjoy the descriptions for their own sake, rather than as a process to really drive the plot onwards. But I suppose a lot of victorans are like that, look at Dickens, who can be very long windeed.. think about Our Mutual Friend, Bleak House and so on.
But I was very struck by all the descriptions of food, actually done rather better than the famous bit from Dickens' Christmas Carol.
But remember that the book is not ranked as a classic to the same extent over here. We don't get to see it each Christmas (Or Halloween?) like the US.
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Unread postby Raven » Mon Oct 17, 2005 12:55 pm

When I read it the first time, I wanted to skip over some of the descriptive paragraphs and get on with the story.

Then I reread it, and it made me wonder in parts, like the one described above by Bix:
"Then, as he wended his way, by swamp and stream and awful woodland. . .every sound of nature, at that witching hour, fluttered his excited imagination: the moan of the whip-poor-will. . ., the boding cry of the tree-toad. . .the dreary hooting of the screech owl." Just look at the words he has used to evoke a feeling in us: awful woodland, moan, boding cry, dreary hooting"

I wondered if he had not been in that position himself, as it reminded me of myself as a young girl and letting my imagination get the better of me. Spooking myself as I walked in the dark.

I throughly enjoyed it!

thank you

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Unread postby Liz » Mon Oct 17, 2005 1:09 pm

Endora wrote:I found the story too long on description and too slow on plot. But I suppose a lot of victorans are like that, look at Dickens, who can be very long windeed..


As I said a few weeks ago, I wasn't much on Dickens either. :-/ Irving was way too descriptive for me. My mind would wander. And then I'd have to re-read. I kept thinking, "cut to the chase, man". I did like this description, though:

"A few amber clouds floated in the sky, without a breath of air to move them. The horizon was a fine golden tint, changing gradually into a pure apple green, and from that into the deep blue of the mid-heaven. A slanting ray lingered on the woody crests of the precipices that overhung some parts of the river, giving greater depth to the dark-gray and purple of their rocky sides."
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Unread postby lumineuse » Mon Oct 17, 2005 1:21 pm

Raven wrote:When I read it the first time, I wanted to skip over some of the descriptive paragraphs and get on with the story.

Then I reread it, and it made me wonder in parts, like the one described above by Bix:
"Then, as he wended his way, by swamp and stream and awful woodland. . .every sound of nature, at that witching hour, fluttered his excited imagination: the moan of the whip-poor-will. . ., the boding cry of the tree-toad. . .the dreary hooting of the screech owl." Just look at the words he has used to evoke a feeling in us: awful woodland, moan, boding cry, dreary hooting"

I wondered if he had not been in that position himself, as it reminded me of myself as a young girl and letting my imagination get the better of me. Spooking myself as I walked in the dark.

I throughly enjoyed it!

thank you

Liz and DITHOT


I can tell you this, that area around Sleepy Hollow is pretty spooky looking to begin with. Of course, when I was there, I was keenly aware that I was in headless horseman territory, but I don't think that's all it was. Very ancient looking, with narrow roads winding around curves and hills, stone fences lining the roads, glimpses of old homes through the trees, crumbling cemetaries. You can imagine what it would be like on autumn night with all the dry leaves and corn stalks rustling. Very spooky. Maybe that's what inspired Irving in the first place.
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Unread postby OldLady » Mon Oct 17, 2005 2:21 pm

Bix wrote:I love his description of Ichabod, of course. "The cognomen of Crane was not inapplicable to his person" is such an understated and humorous introduction to the almost overstated description that follows. . ."hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels..."

I had checked SH out of the Middle School library where I work and last Friday, I was in a Language Arts class, supporting 2 of my students. Except that the teacher had flipped LA and Reading, so I was really in a reading class, which began with 10 minutes of silent reading. I ran back to my office for SH, delighted that I would actually be able to get comfy and READ! The class was instructed to note unfamiliar vocabulary with a post-it. I had to look up "cognomen"!

I found myself drifting through many of the lengthy descriptive passages. It took some discipline to go back and reread and appreciate the writing.

Thanks for all the work you put into ONBC, Liz & DITHOT!
Last edited by OldLady on Mon Oct 17, 2005 10:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Oct 17, 2005 2:40 pm

Nice to see you, Old Lady! Glad you could join us! :cool: So what exactly did cognomen mean? :dunce:

I think Irving's writing is very much in style for the time he wrote. I believe that is something I remember from the Hemmingway bio - that Hemmingway was one of the first writers to break out of the Victorian mode of long, flowery prose and into a shorter, more concise writing style. It does make you slow down and really pay attention while you are reading. We have become so accustomed to our fast paced life style and culture that it takes a bit of doing. When you do, you can smell that food and actually start getting a little sleepy yourself... Very different from our usual reads here at ONBC. A bit of a change from Hunter and Robbins? :lol:
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Unread postby Jackslady » Mon Oct 17, 2005 3:43 pm

I really enjoyed reading the story and noticing how in the movie they took the essence of it and created something much larger.

The descriptive passages are certainly very detailed and vivid. When I visited the Shakespeare theatre in London recently the guide told us that Shakespeare used very detailed description because he had to recreate places such as Venice or Rome for people who would have absolutely no idea what they looked like. Perhaps it was the advent of cinema, and then t.v. which has led to the need for less detailed description in writing; thanks to the media most of us can conjure up images without the need for such incredible detail. I don't know - just a theory!

The Sleepy Hollow/Headless Horseman tale is not well known here in the UK, I have enjoyed reading it and seeing the film, too of course!
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Oct 17, 2005 3:56 pm

Jackslady wrote: The descriptive passages are certainly very detailed and vivid. When I visited the Shakespeare theatre in London recently the guide told us that Shakespeare used very detailed description because he had to recreate places such as Venice or Rome for people who would have absolutely no idea what they looked like. Perhaps it was the advent of cinema, and then t.v. which has led to the need for less detailed description in writing; thanks to the media most of us can conjure up images without the need for such incredible detail. I don't know - just a theory!


That is a very interesting theory and it makes a lot of sense! I think you might be on to something there. :cool: Any English teachers out there that would like to give us their :twocents: ?

Endora, to answer your question. The story is popular over here at Halloween.
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Unread postby Bix » Mon Oct 17, 2005 4:00 pm

Jackslady wrote: The descriptive passages are certainly very detailed and vivid. When I visited the Shakespeare theatre in London recently the guide told us that Shakespeare used very detailed description because he had to recreate places such as Venice or Rome for people who would have absolutely no idea what they looked like. Perhaps it was the advent of cinema, and then t.v. which has led to the need for less detailed description in writing; thanks to the media most of us can conjure up images without the need for such incredible detail. I don't know - just a theory!


I think that's a very good theory, Jackslady. Perhaps it is because the story is so familiar over here that I was able to approach this latest reading of it with an eye for Irving's use of words to evoke a place and a mood so stunningly.

And just a few minutes ago before I read your post, DITHOT, I had just said to myself, "Wow, what a difference between Irving and Nick Hornby!" And yet, there is one thing that I think Irving, HST, Tom Robbins and Hornby all share, no matter how many or few words they use, and that is that wry, ironic sense of humor through which they filter their observations of the world. In other words, none of them take themselves too seriously, do they?
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Unread postby Johnny Fan » Mon Oct 17, 2005 6:05 pm

This is my first time joining one of the ONBC story discussions, so if it seems like I have no idea what I'm talking about, please bear with me! :blush:

I have to agree with what everyone else has generally said so far. Washington Irving's writing seems very slow-paced, and I found some of his descriptions to be boring at times. I will admit to also skipping a few parts the first time I read it, but I went back to read certain descriptions the second time.

I do admire Irving's way with words though. He uses a wide range of vocabulary, and while some of the descriptions were a bit long, they were also quite beautiful. I liked his description of the Headless Horseman. It was very spooky!

"In the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, he beheld something huge, misshapen, black and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveller."

I also like this passage because this is exactly what I think of regarding the fall season:

"It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day, the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet. Streaming files of wild ducks began to make their appearance high in the air; the bark of the squirrel might be heard from the groves of beech and hickory nuts, and the pensive whistle of the quail at intervals from the neighboring stubble-field."
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Mon Oct 17, 2005 6:19 pm

Welcome to ONBC Johnny Fanatic! :wave: I think your answer was very well thought out. Remember there are no right or wrong answers at ONBC, just your impressions! You are right that if you take your time reading this story you begin to pick up on his descriptions and sort of drift off on them. It doesn't necessarily happen the first time though.


Bix wrote: In other words, none of them take themselves too seriously, do they?


Good point about the humor, Bix. I wondered how this story would go over given how different it is from our usual reads but there are some similarities.
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Unread postby Johnny Fan » Mon Oct 17, 2005 6:24 pm

Thank you for the welcome, DITHOT. I definitely wanted to be a part of this discussion because Sleepy Hollow is one of my favorite Johnny movies, and it is interesting to note the differences between the movie and Washington Irving's story.
"Breath. We tend not to think much about it. Each one is a blessing--every inhale, every exhale." -Johnny Depp


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