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Mon 6 May 2013 16:00 BBC Radio 4

Duration:
28 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 06 May 2013

Washington Irving was the first superstar of American literature, and the first American author to gain international respect. Many of his most famous stories, including 'Rip Van Winkle' and 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow', were affectionate hymns to his native New York State and the rural idyll of the Hudson Valley - so it's perhaps surprising to discover that they were written while Irving was living in the industrial hotbed of early nineteenth century Birmingham. Irving was in the city to forge links with British businesses and help rebuild his family's finances back home, which had been hit hard by the Anglo-American war of 1812; he went on to spend around twenty years in Europe before heading home to enjoy the wealth he'd earned as a writer. Birmingham novelist Catherine O'Flynn tells the story of Irving's time in the city, and of the relationships he built with British writers like Walter Scott and Charles Dickens, whose own Christmas stories were heavily influenced by Irving's own. She discovers how Irving has been taken up by academics as a pioneer of trans-national writing, and hears from Joe Queenan, who lives in Irving's home town and who regards Washington Irving impersonators as the most loathed individuals on the east coast of the United States.

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