‘The Stout Gentleman’ by Washington Irving

The Stout Gentleman by Washington Irving, 1822

The magic trick:

Excellent use of an outer-shell plot to elevate and connect the inner-shell story

This is a neat setup. The narrator is stuck in a country inn on a rainy day. He wants entertainment, so he starts to imagine what the stout gentleman in the room upstairs might be like. It becomes an exercise in both imagination and assumption. The resulting narrative says more about the narrator than it does the titular gentleman. And that’s quite a trick on Anderson’s part.

The selection:

He was stout, or, as some term it, lusty; in all probability, therefore, he was advanced in life, some people expanding as they grow old. By his breakfasting rather late, and in his own room, he must be a man accustomed to live at his ease, and above the necessity of early rising; no doubt a round, rosy, lusty old gentleman.

There was another violent ringing. The stout gentleman was impatient for his breakfast. He was evidently a man of importance; “well-to-do in the world;” accustomed to be promptly waited upon; of a keen appetite, and a little cross when hungry; “perhaps,” thought I, “he maybe be some London Alderman; or who knows but he may be a Member of Parliament?”

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