BOOK TALK: RIP VAN WINKLE by Washington Irving



–Read India Read Initiative—

This is an attempt to create interest in reading books. We may not get time to read all the books. But such reviews and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.



    It is an old American short story that takes you back in times. Luckily, I got an opportunity to read it once again after many years in a book titled, ‘Great American Short Stories’ published by Barnes & Noble that has around thirty four short stories. Where, I would like to introduce the publication, through this evergreen fable, titled—RIP VAN WINKLE. Maybe, some other time I’ll take you through some other stories too, out of the book. The volume is illustriously introduced by Jane Smiley who happens to be an American novelist. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992 for her novel ‘A Thousand Acres.’

    The setting of the story is in and around the Kaatskill mountains above the Hudson river. At the foot of these fairy mountains there is this antique little village founded by some Dutch colonists. The country side was then still a province of Great Britian. Where, a simple good natured fellow, of the name of Rip Van Winkle lived. He was a descendant of the Van Winkles who figured so gallantly in the chivalrous days of Stuyvesant of New Netherland now in the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennysylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, and Delaware. But he inherited little of the martial character of his ancestors.

    He was a simple good-natured man. A kind neighbour, and an obedient hen-pecked husband. He had a termagant wife by the name of Dame Van Winkle. The children of the village too, would shout with joy whenever he approached. He assisted at their sports, made their playthings, taught them to fly kites and shoot marbles. He also told them long stories of ghosts, witches and Indians. Whenever he went dodging about the village, he was often surrounded by a troop of them, hanging on to his skirts.

    The minus point in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of money making labour. He avoided work but spent time in helping others and gallivanting here and there for frivolous things.

    Rip Van Winkle was one of those happy-go-lucky types, of well oiled dispositions. Who took the world to be easy, ate white bread or brown, whichever could be got with least thought or trouble. He would rather starve on a penny than work for a pound. And his wife kept continually dining in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness, and the ruin he was bringing on his family.

    Rip’s sole domestic adherent was his dog Wolf. Who was as much hen-pecked as his master. For Dame Van Winkle regarded them as companions in idleness. For a long while he consoled himself, when driven from home, by frequenting a kind of perpetual club of the sages, philosophers, and other idle persons of the village, which helped its sessions on a bench before a small inn, designated by a rubicund portrait of His Majesty George the Third. They often gossiped when some old newspaper fell in their hands from some passing traveller. And how solemnly, they would listen to Derrick Van Bummel the school master. The opinion of this junto were, completely controlled by Nicholas Vedder, a patriarch of the village, and landlord of the inn, at the door of which he took his seat from morning till night.

    Gradually, poor Rip was reduced to despair. His only alternative, to escape from the labour of the farm and clamour of his wife, was to take his gun in hand and saunter away into the woods. Here he would sometimes seat himself at the foot of a tree, and share the contents of his wallet with wolf, with whom he sympatised as a fellow-sufferer in persecution. “Poor Wolf,” he would say, “thy mistress leads thee a dog’s life of it; but never mind, my lad, whilst I live thou shalt never want a friend to stand by thee!”

    One day while Rip was on a long ramble on a fine autumnal day. He had unconsciously scrambled to one of the highest parts of the Kaatskill mountains. Where, he was at his favourite sport of squirrel shooting in the desolate solitudes that echoed and re-echoed with the reports of his gun. Panting and fatigued, he threw himself, late in the afternoon on a green knoll covered with mountain herbage from where he saw the brimming Hudson below him. Slowly the mountains began to throw their long blue shadows over the valleys. So he lay there musing on this scene. He visualized it would be dark before he reaches the village. So he heaved a long sigh when he thought of encountering the terrors of Dame Van Winkle.

    And as he was about to, commence his descent, to the village. He heard a voice from a distance, hallooing, “Rip Van Winkle! Rip Van Winkle!” He looked round, but could see nothing but for a crow winging its solitary flight across the mountain. He thought his fancy must have deceived him, and turned to descend, when he again heard the same cry ring through the still evening air; “Rip Van Winkle! Rip Van Winkle!” He turned around and was surprised to see any human being in this lonely and unfrequented place. He thought it was some neighbour asking for assistance. Is when Van Winkle saw a man wearing antiquated Dutch clothing; he was carrying a keg up the mountain and required help. Together, the men and Wolf proceed to a hollow in which Rip discovered the source of thunderous noises: a group of ornately dressed, silent, bearded men who were playing nine-pins.

    Rip Van Winkle did not ask who they are or how they knew his name. Instead, he began to drink some of their jenever (liquor) and soon fell asleep. When, he awoke on the mountain. He discovered shocking changes: His musket was rotting and had become rusty, his beard was a foot long, and his dog was nowhere to be found. He returned to his village, where he recognized no one.

    Rip had returned just after an election, and people were asking how he had voted. Never having cast a ballot in his life, he proclaimed himself as a faithful subject of King George III. Unaware, that the American Revolution had taken place. He nearly got himself into trouble with the townspeople. Until one elderly woman recognized him as the long forgotten and the long-lost Rip Van Winkle.

    King George’s portrait on the inn’s sign had been replaced with one of George Washington. Rip learnt that most of his friends were killed while fighting in the American Revolution. He was also perplexed and disturbed when he found another man by the name of Rip Van Winkle. But surprisingly he turned out to be his own son, now grown up. Rip also discovered that his wife had died some time ago but was not saddened, by the sad news.

    He learnt that the men he met in the mountains are rumoured to be the ghosts of Hendrick (Henry) Hudson’s crew. Which had vanished long ago, and that he had been away from the village for at least 20 years. His grown up daughter finally takes him home. He resumes his usual idleness. His strange tale is solemnly taken to heart by the Dutch settlers. Particularly by the children who say that whenever thunder is heard, the men in the mountains must be playing nine-pins. The henpecked husbands in the area often wish they could have had a sip of Van Winkle’s elixir to sleep through their own wives’ nagging.

    In the ultimate analysis Rip Van Winkle suffered because of his laziness. His punishment was to remain asleep for 20 years, because a person asleep, naturally misses the advent of the setting change. So, he missed the change: Both the pre-revolutionary and post revolutionary America. And that happens to be the central theme of the short story.


By Kamlesh Tripathi



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Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:


Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

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By Kamlesh Tripathi



Share it if you like it


Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases. Should you wish to donate for the cause the bank details are given below:


Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

IFSC code: BKID0006805


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