Katrina Van Tassel. She’s the whisp of a character who is barely mentioned in Washington Irving‘s story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Irving’s glimpses of Van Tassel show her as “the young love interest.” But, she’s the driver behind the actions of Ichabod Crane and Abraham Van Brunt.
I remember reading Irving’s story in elementary school. It was how he created the feel of rural Tarrytown, New York, during the 1790s, all wrapped up in a good old-fashioned ghost story, that initially captured my attention. But my questions about who Van Tassel was, drove my ongoing interest in his story.
Storytelling | Two Audiences
In addition to Irving, I’m also a fan of Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and the original Bugs Bunny cartoons. They appear to teach children helpful life lessons wrapped in a fairytale. But they’re actually meant for two audiences: children and adults. That’s good quality writing when you can effectively reach two audiences with one story.
Today, Irving’s story has been diluted into a simple Halloween ghost story for children. But there’s much more to it |
- The inclusion of Cotton Mather as Ichabod Crane’s real-life hero. Mather was a very complicated American pioneer during the 1600s in both religion and science. Today, he’s most often associated with the Salem Witch Trials.
- The underground, and possibly unintentional, story of how women needed to marry someone of means to have a good life regardless of their own family’s wealth.
Alt HerStory | Premise
While the first publication of Irving’s book was in 1820, the story was set in 1790. In 1827, Oneida Institute opened in New York state under the premise of gender and racial equality. That’s nearly 40 years after the setting of Sleepy Hollow.
What if Van Tassel was the driving force behind setting up higher learning for women during the 1790s?
Van Tassel’s father leads her to believe that she must get married to someone to have a good life. It could be Crane, Van Brunt, or any reasonably capable man. Money was not required in her case since her father was wealthy.
But what if she was the one who convinced Crane of the need for higher education for women so that women could be self-sufficient? That would have been a selfless act on Crane’s part since it was in his best interest to marry Van Tassel to gain access to her family’s wealth.
The notion of selflessness has been around for a long time. Arguably, it was brought into the public mainstream by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in Germany (1770-1831), followed by Thomas Hill Green in England (1836-1882), one of Hegel’s philosophy disciples.
That’s where my story of Katrina Van Tassel | Spirit of Love picks up.
When researching this story and re-reading Iriving’s book, Hegel’s Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Basic Outline, and Green’s Prolegomena to Ethics, I also put together a timeline that includes several key people’s life spans in America and Europe.
Since the population in America in the 1700s was estimated to be only 2.5 million and England during that same time period had a population in the 6 to 10 million range, many of these critical people knew each other or at least knew of each other.
- Cotton Mather and Benjamin Franklin lived during the same time period and in the same area of America. They also shared similarities concerning their study of science and religion. Did they talk or correspond?
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Benjamin Franklin also lived during the same time period. Since Franklin spent a considerable amount of time in Europe during his life, did they correspond with each other?
Because Franklin accomplished so much during his lifetime while being a complete paradox, adding his influence into the mix of Katrina Van Tassel’s story makes it more delicious.
Storytelling | Two Audiences | Part Two
My Alt HerStory for Van Tassel seems to be biased toward an adult audience but retains the fairytale feel of Irving’s original But today’s children are more sophisticated than those in the past–at least that’s what parents now and in the past would like to believe. The reality is that Irving, Aesop, and the Grimm brothers had to largely couch their stories in fairytales because of the censors of their time. I believe children from every era have always understood what was truly happening.
This story is an excerpt from Concept, my upcoming book about the process of creating avant-garde photography. To learn more about my books and classes and to receive a discount, you’re invited to subscribe to my List by clicking HERE.
Elusive Story | Katrina Van Tassel | Video | Behind the Scenes