Washington Irving: Three Western Narratives

Washington Irving: Three Western Narratives


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America’s first internationally acclaimed author, Washington Irving established his fame with tales of the Hudson Valley in the days of Dutch rule, and then spent seventeen years in Europe mining the Old World for stories. When he finally returned to the United States, he embarked on a trilogy of books on the American West that would prove decisive in molding his compatriots’ conception of the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific Northwest. The Library of America is pleased to present this Western trilogy in our third volume of Irving’s work.

Irving’s own encounter with the West came in 1832 when he accompanied the Commissioner of Indian Affairs on a month-long journey to what is now eastern Oklahoma. His account of that trip, A Tour on the Prairies (1835), described wild landscape, rugged inhabitants, and dramatic chases and hunts with an eye for romantic sublimity and a keen appreciation of the frontiersman’s “secret of personal freedom.”

After the success of his first western book, Irving undertook to write the history of John Jacob Astor’s ultimately failed attempt to establish a fur-trading empire in the Northwest. In Astoria (1836), he created a sweeping epic of exploration, commercial enterprise, and “contest for dominion on the shores of the Pacific,” drawing on Astor’s rich archive of materials and enlivening it with his flair for vigorous storytelling. Very much in the spirit of Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, Astoria is an account of dangerous journeys and violent imperial rivalries imbued with regret for a world already vanished.

In The Adventures of Captain Bonneville (1837), Irving focused on a single memorable figure—an army officer and fur trader who may also have been an American spy tracking British ambitions in the far country—to reveal the flavor of frontier life in the Rockies and beyond. This lively saga, based on Bonneville’s own memoir of his wandering career, is Irving’s most fully realized portrait of mountain men and western Indians.

While working closely from original documents, Irving wrote also as a mythologist of the vast spaces traversed by “Sindbads of the wilderness.” In these three compelling narratives, he opened up a crucial region of the American literary imagination.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781931082532
Publisher: Library of America
Publication date: 01/26/2004
Series: Library of America Series
Pages: 1024
Sales rank: 990,164
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.35(d)

About the Author

Washington Irving, one of the first American authors to earn his living from writing, was born in 1783 and died in 1859.

James P. Ronda, volume editor, is retired H.G. Barnard Professor in Western History at the University of Tulsa and the author of Jefferson’s West: A Journey with Lewis and Clark and Astoria and Empire.

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