Sunday, December 21, 2014

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 257: Washington Irving, Christmas Eve (#257)

Washington Irving, "Christmas Eve" (1819) from Washington Irving: History, Tales and Sketches:

What is our current equivalent of the "sketch," an old form where people just wrote about things they observed? Is it the blog post, the Facebook status, or tweet, that simply records having seen some person? My friend Adrianne is a killer at this form, recording micro-transactions with just enough context and just enough isolation to give a whole glimpse of an imagined person.

Washington Irving takes a different tactic, recording at length his outsider impressions of an old English Christmas Eve. It's very much what you'd expect of his sketches (assuming you read his earlier "Christmas Dinner" sketch): the narrator arrives with a guide at the old Squire's house and just sponges up everything going on around him, from old English games, to the current love affairs blooming among the youngsters.

Again, there's something implicitly melancholy--or at least narrow--about the Squire's attempt to keep the world and history out of his house; in a way, the symbol for this might be both the squire and his bachelor relative, both of whom have frozen history at a certain point. For instance, the bachelor may be full of family history and genealogy, but he won't be contributing to that genealogy, even if he is still a bit of a flirt.

And so, even if Irving keeps the observations moving, and presents a world of cheer and song, I can't help remember that Rip Van Winkle's important skill is sleeping through history; and how much Anglophilia there is in Irving's work, as if all these sketches are an attempt at capturing a moment in history--and not letting time move on.

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