The fascinating life of a man who “ranked as one of America’s greatest writers, bon vivants, and literary showmen” (The New York Times).
The author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip van Winkle” was a quintessential New Yorker, presidential confidant, diplomat, lawyer, and renowned charmer. The first American writer to make his pen his primary means of support, Washington Irving rocketed to fame at the age of twenty-six.
In 1809, he published A History of New York under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, to great acclaim. The public’s appetite for all things Irving was insatiable; his name alone guaranteed sales. At the time, he was one of the most famous men in the world, a friend of Dickens, Hawthorne, and Longfellow, as well as Astor, van Buren, and Madison. But his sparkling public persona was only one side of this gentleman author. In brilliant, meticulous strokes, Brian Jay Jones renders Washington Irving in all his flawed splendor—someone who fretted about money and employment, suffered from writer’s block, and doggedly cultivated his reputation. Jones offers a very human portrait of the often contrasting public and private lives of this true American original.
“A fine biography—engaging, clearly written, and well researched.” —TheWashington Post Book World
Policy analyst and speechwriter Jones traces the life of "America's first bona-fide best-selling author," following Washington Irving (1783 1859) through his childhood in a religious home in New York, his entry into law, the death of his fianc e, his years abroad and, of course, his writing career. Some of the most interesting sections describe Irving's interactions with other writers, like Poe and Dickens. Irving emerges as a man with a deep need for praise and affirmation. He was especially worried that living in Europe for so many years would cost him his American readership. Jones does not argue that Irving was a truly great writer; rather, he gives him a great deal of credit for being the first American to figure out how to make a living as an author. There were no models, no one to guide him through the arcane details of international copyright. But this biography is unsophisticated in both the writing and portrayal of Irving: for instance, is there really the deep "conflict" Jones posits between Irving's being publicly charming and privately petty? Andrew Burstein's recent The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving remains the better choice. 8 pages of b&w illus.