The English Lineage Of Diedrich Knickerbocker

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
James E. Evans, Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: The narrator of Washington Irving's A History of New York, an odd, inquisitive gentleman named Diedrich Knickerbocker, who allegedly disappeared in I809, leaving behind him the manuscript of this "only Authentic History of the Times that hath been, or ever will be Published,"1 revivifies a prominent figure in English comic fiction, the self-conscious narrator. Yet no readers of A History of New York have commented extensively on this narrator's relationship to eighteenth-century British writers. Among early critics, Sir Walter Scott noted briefly that he had "never read anything so closely resembling the style of Dean Swift" and that he had also found "some touches which remind me much of Sterne."2 Among modern commentators, Stanley T. Williams, in his biography of Irving, says about the author: "His most servile debts were to Fielding, whose conversations with the reader he reduces to tedium; to Sterne, whose Uncle Toby, now with a Dutch name, again analyzes military science; to Swift, who begot the war of the Long-pipes and Short-pipes."3 More sympathetic and more accurate about Sterne is William L. Hedges, who finds the "key to Irving's achievement" in "the ingenious device of Diedrich Knickerbocker, who manages to sound at once like Sterne's first person narrators, and Fielding's cultivated omniscience going berserk in mazes of irony."4 Neither Williams nor Hedges, however, chose to discuss the precise nature of Knickerbocker's heritage from Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, or Jonathan Swift, whose persona in A Tale of a Tub also bears a familial resemblance to Irving's narrator. The purpose of this essay, then, is to define more accurately Irving's use of a literary tradition by identifying Knickerbocker's relationship to Swift's Tubbian hack, Mr. Fielding, Author, and Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

Additional Information

Early American Literature 10 (1975): 3-13.
Language: English
Date: 1975
Literary analysis, Washington Irving, History of New York

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