Rip Van Winkle and other stories first appeared in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., published serially in the United States from 1819-1820, and in book form in England in 1820. The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon was extremely well-received in America and was the first work by an American author to be reviewed well in Europe. The collection of stories and essays made Irving’s reputation and established him as a preeminent American author. Most of the sketches concern his observations as an American visiting England, but six, including the two most famous—“Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”—deal with American scenes, including adaptations of German folklore retold with New York as the setting, a romantic defense of Native Americans, and a few other essays.
“Rip Van Winkle,” one of the most famous of the sketches, tells the story of an indolent but good-natured Dutch-American from pre-Revolutionary War New York. Rip lives with very little peace, for his wife treats him quite harshly. One day in an attempt to get away from her, he goes hunting in the Catskills with his best companion, his dog Wolf. Rip comes upon a strange group of men bowling in the mountains and, after drinking from their flagon, wakes up the next morning and returns to his village to find that twenty years have passed. In those twenty years, the Revolutionary War has come and gone and Rip’s wife has died, leaving him in peace at last. He makes new friends and goes to live with his now-grown daughter, and he lives out the rest of his days happily and idly.
The other sketches deal largely with rural England and the old traditions and customs that still survive there. Some also deal with the antiquities that survive in London. A few encompass stories that Crayon hears while on his travels, and some are set in America. The overall feeling in the collection is one of reverence and respect for England and especially its long history and traditions, but also a feeling of excitement for America’s potential as a new nation.