“Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott
Ivanhoe is a historical novel by Sir Walter Scott, first published in 1820 in three volumes and subtitled A Romance. At the time it was written it represented a shift by Scott away from fairly realistic novels set in Scotland in the comparatively recent past, to a somewhat fanciful depiction of medieval England. It has proved to be one of the best known and most influential of Scott’s novels.Ivanhoe is set in 12th-century England, with colourful descriptions of a tournament, outlaws, a witch trial and divisions between Jews and Christians. It has been credited for increasing interest in romance and medievalism; John Henry Newman claimed Scott “had first turned men’s minds in the direction of the Middle Ages”, while Carlyle and Ruskin made similar assertions of Scott’s overwhelming influence over the revival, based primarily on the publication of this novel. It has also had an important influence on popular perceptions of Robin Hood, Richard the Lionheart and King John.There have been several adaptations for stage, film and television.
Plot introduction Ivanhoe is the story of one of the remaining Saxon noble families at a time when the nobility in England was overwhelmingly Norman. It follows the Saxon protagonist, Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe, who is out of favour with his father for his allegiance to the Norman king Richard the Lionheart. The story is set in 1194, after the failure of the Third Crusade, when many of the Crusaders were still returning to their homes in Europe. King Richard, who had been captured by Leopold of Austria on his return journey to England, was believed to still be in captivity.The legendary Robin Hood, initially under the name of Locksley, is also a character in the story, as are his “merry men”.
The character that Scott gave to Robin Hood in Ivanhoe helped shape the modern notion of this figure as a cheery noble outlaw.Other major characters include Ivanhoe’s two love interests, Rebecca, a Jewish woman, and the Lady Rowena; Ivanhoe’s intractable father, Cedric, one of the few remaining Saxon lords; various Knights Templar, most notable of whom is Brian de Bois-Guilbert, Ivanhoe’s main rival; a number of clergymen; the loyal serfs: Gurth the swineherd and the jester Wamba, whose observations punctuate much of the action; and the Jewish moneylender, Isaac of York, who is equally passionate about his people and his beautiful daughter, Rebecca. The book was written and published during a period of increasing struggle for the emancipation of the Jews in England, and there are frequent references to injustices against them. Plot summary Opening Protagonist Wilfred of Ivanhoe is disinherited by his father Cedric of Rotherwood for supporting the Norman King Richard and for falling in love with the Lady Rowena, Cedric’s ward and a descendant of the Saxon Kings of England, after Cedric planned to marry her to the powerful Lord Athelstane, a pretender to the Crown of England through his descent from the last Saxon King, Harold Godwinson. Ivanhoe accompanies King Richard on the Crusades, where he is said to have played a notable role in the Siege of Acre; and tends to Louis of Thuringia, who suffers from malaria.The book opens with a scene of Norman knights and prelates seeking the hospitality of Cedric. They are guided there by a pilgrim, known at that time as a palmer.
Also returning from the Holy Land that same night, Isaac of York, a Jewish moneylender, seeks refuge at Rotherwood. Following the night’s meal, the palmer observes one of the Normans, the Templar Brian de Bois-Guilbert, issue orders to his Saracen soldiers to capture Isaac.The palmer then assists in Isaac’s escape from Rotherwood, with the additional aid of the swineherd Gurth.Isaac of York offers to repay his debt to the palmer with a suit of armour and a war horse to participate in the tournament at Ashby-de-la-Zouch Castle, on his inference that the palmer was secretly a knight. The palmer is taken by surprise, but accepts the offer. The tournament The story then moves to the scene of the tournament, presided over by Prince John. Other characters in attendance are Cedric, Athelstane, Lady Rowena, Isaac of York, his daughter Rebecca, Robin of Locksley and his men, Prince John’s advisor Waldemar Fitzurse, and numerous Norman knights.On the first day of the tournament, a bout of individual jousting, a mysterious knight, identifying himself only as “Desdichado”, defeats some of the best Norman competitors, including Bois-Guilbert, Maurice de Bracy, and the baron Reginald Front-de-Boeuf. The masked knight declines to reveal himself despite Prince John’s request, but is nevertheless declared the champion of the day and is permitted to choose the Queen of the Tournament. He bestows this honour upon the Lady Rowena.On the second day, at a melee, Desdichado is the leader of one party, opposed by his former adversaries. Desdichado’s side is soon hard pressed and he himself beset by multiple foes until rescued by a knight nicknamed ‘Le Noir Faineant’, who thereafter departs in secret. When forced to unmask himself to receive his coronet, Desdichado is identified as Wilfred of Ivanhoe, returned from the Crusades. This causes much consternation to Prince John and his court who now fear the imminent return of King Richard. Because he is severely wounded in the competition, Ivanhoe is taken into the care of Rebecca, the daughter of Isaac, who is a skilled healer. She convinces her father to take him with them to York, where he can be best treated.
The story then glosses the conclusion of the tournament including feats of archery by Locksley.Capture and rescue In the forests between Ashby and York, the Lady Rowena, Cedric and Athelstane acquire Isaac, Rebecca and the wounded Ivanhoe, who have been abandoned by their servants for fear of bandits. En route, the party is captured by de Bracy and his companions and taken to Torquilstone, the castle of Front-de-Boeuf. The swineherd Gurth, who had served Ivanhoe as squire at the tournament and who was recaptured by Cedric when Ivanhoe was identified, manages to escape.The Black Knight, having taken refuge for the night in the hut of a local friar, the Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst, volunteers his assistance on learning about the captives from Robin of Locksley. They then besiege the Castle of Torquilstone with Robin’s own men, including the friar and assorted Saxon yeomen. At Torquilstone, de Bracy expresses his love for the Lady Rowena but is refused.
Brian de Bois-Guilbert tries to seduce Rebecca and is rebuffed. Front-de-Boeuf tries to wring a hefty ransom from Isaac of York, but Isaac refuses to pay unless his daughter is freed.When the besiegers deliver a note to yield up the captives, their Norman captors demand a priest to administer the Final Sacrament to Cedric; whereupon Cedric’s jester Wamba slips in disguised as a priest, and takes the place of Cedric, who then escapes and brings important information to the besiegers on the strength of the garrison and its layout. The besiegers then storm the castle. The castle is set aflame during the assault by Ulrica, the daughter of the original lord of the castle, Lord Torquilstone, as revenge for her father’s death. Front-de-Boeuf is killed in the fire while de Bracy surrenders to the Black Knight, who identifies himself as King Richard and releases de Bracy. Bois-Guilbert escapes with Rebecca while Isaac is rescued by the Clerk of Copmanhurst.
The Lady Rowena is saved by Cedric, while the still-wounded Ivanhoe is rescued from the burning castle by King Richard. In the fighting, Athelstane is wounded and presumed dead while attempting to rescue Rebecca, whom he mistakes for Rowena.Rebecca’s trial and Ivanhoe’s reconciliation. Following the battle, Locksley plays host to King Richard. Word is also conveyed by de Bracy to Prince John of the King’s return and the fall of Torquilstone. In the meantime, Bois-Guilbert rushes with his captive to the nearest Templar Preceptory, where Lucas de Beaumanoir, the Grand-Master of the Templars, takes umbrage at Bois-Guilbert’s infatuation and subjects Rebecca to a trial for witchcraft. At Bois-Guilbert’s secret request, she claims the right to trial by combat; and Bois-Guilbert, who had hoped for the position, is devastated when the Grand-Master orders him to fight against Rebecca’s champion. Rebecca then writes to her father to procure a champion for her. Cedric organises Athelstane’s funeral at Coningsburgh, in the midst of which the Black Knight arrives with a companion. Cedric, who had not been present at Locksley’s carousal, is ill-disposed towards the knight upon learning his true identity; but Richard calms Cedric and reconciles him with his son. During this conversation, Athelstane emerges – not dead, but laid in his coffin alive by monks desirous of the funeral money. Over Cedric’s renewed protests, Athelstane pledges his homage to the Norman King Richard and urges Cedric to marry Rowena to Ivanhoe; to which Cedric finally agrees.Soon after this reconciliation, Ivanhoe receives word from Isaac beseeching him to fight on Rebecca’s behalf. Ivanhoe, riding by day and night, arrives in time for the trial by combat, but horse and man are exhausted, with little change of victory.
However, Bois-Guilbert, torn between his love for Rebecca and his duty to fight to uphold her death sentence, dies in the saddle before the combat begins, brought low by a stroke or heart failure.Fearing further persecution, Rebecca and her father leave England for Granada. Before leaving, Rebecca comes to bid Rowena a fond farewell. Finally, Ivanhoe and Rowena marry and live a long and happy life together, though the final paragraphs of the book note that Ivanhoe’s military service ended with the death of King Richard.Characters Wilfred of Ivanhoe, the eponymous character, is a knight and son of Cedric the Saxon.
Ivanhoe, though of a more noble lineage than some of the other characters, represents a middling individual in the medieval class system who is not exceptionally outstanding in his abilities, as is expected of other quasi-historical fictional characters, such as the Greek heroes. Critic György Lukács points to middling main characters like Ivanhoe in Sir Walter Scott’s other novels as one of the primary reasons Scott’s historical novels depart from previous historical works, and better explore social and cultural history. Other characters Rebecca – a Jewish healer, young daughter of Isaac of YorkLady Rowena – a Saxon lady under the protection of Cedric of RotherwoodPrince John – brother of King RichardThe Black Knight or The Sluggish Knight – King Richard, incognitoLocksley – Robin Hood, an English yeomanThe Hermit or Clerk of Copmanhurst – Friar TuckSir Brian de Bois-Guilbert – a leader of the Knights Templar; a friend of Prince JohnIsaac of York – the father of Rebecca; a Jewish merchant and money-lender Prior Aymer – Prior of Jorvaulx Abbey; friendly to Prince JohnReginald Front-de-Boeuf – a local baron who was given Ivanhoe’s estate by Prince JohnCedric the Saxon/Cedric of Rotherwood – Ivanhoe’s father, a Saxon nobleLucas de Beaumanoir – Grand Master of the Knights Templar Conrade de Montfichet – a Templar knightMaurice de Bracy – Captain of the Free Companions, a band of mercenaries. He introduces the word “freelance”: “I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them… thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment”.Waldemar Fitzurse – Prince John’s loyal minion; his name tied to Reginald Fitzurse, one of the killers of Thomas Becket Athelstane of Coningsburgh – last of the Saxon royal line Albert de Malvoisin – Preceptor of Templestowe Philip de Malvoisin – a local baron, the brother of Albert Gurth – Cedric the Saxon’s swineherd Wamba – Cedric the Saxon’s loyal jesterUlrica – An elderly woman locked in the castle of Front-de-Boeuf, where she has been imprisoned for much of her life. The castle was captured from her father by Front-de-Boeuf when she herself was young.Kirjath Jairam of Leicester – a rich JewHubert – winner of the first round of the archery contestAlan-a-Dale – member of Locksley’s band style. Critics of the novel have treated it as a romance intended mainly to entertain boys. Other critics assert that the novel creates a realistic and vibrant story, idealising neither the past nor its main character.), and the 1991 box-office success Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner). There is also the Mel Brooks spoof, Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
In most versions of Robin Hood, both Ivanhoe and Robin, for instance, are returning Crusaders. They have quarrelled with their respective fathers, they are proud to be Saxons, they display a highly evolved sense of justice, they support the rightful king even though he is of Norman-French ancestry, they are adept with weapons, and they each fall in love with a “fair maid” .This particular time-frame was popularised by Scott. He borrowed it from the writings of the 16th-century chronicler John Mair or a 17th-century ballad presumably to make the plot of his novel more gripping. Medieval balladeers had generally placed Robin about two centuries later in the reign of Edward I, II or III.Robin’s familiar feat of splitting his competitor’s arrow in an archery contest appears for the first time in Ivanhoe. Historical accuracy The general political events depicted in the novel are relatively accurate; the novel tells of the period just after King Richard’s imprisonment in Austria following the Crusade and of his return to England after a ransom is paid. Yet the story is also heavily fictionalised. Scott himself acknowledged that he had taken liberties with history in his “Dedicatory Epistle” to Ivanhoe.
Modern readers are cautioned to understand that Scott’s aim was to create a compelling novel set in a historical period, not to provide a book of history.There has been criticism of Scott’s portrayal of the bitter extent of the “enmity of Saxon and Norman, represented as persisting in the days of Richard” as “unsupported by the evidence of contemporary records that forms the basis of the story.” However, Scott may have intended to suggest parallels between the Norman conquest of England, about 130 years previously, and the prevailing situation in Scott’s native Scotland . Indeed, some experts suggest that Scott deliberately used Ivanhoe to illustrate his own combination of Scottish patriotism and pro-British Unionism.The novel generated a new name in English – Cedric. The original Saxon name had been Cerdic but Sir Walter misspelled it – an example of metathesis. “It is not a name but a misspelling” said satirist H. H. Munro.In England in 1194, it would have been unlikely for Rebecca to face the threat of being burned at the stake on charges of witchcraft. It is thought that it was shortly afterwards, from the 1250s, that the Church began to undertake the finding and punishment of witches and death did not become the usual penalty until the 15th century. Even then, the form of execution used for witches in England was hanging, burning being reserved for those also convicted of treason. There are various minor errors, e.g. the description of the tournament at Ashby owes more to the 14th century, most of the coins mentioned by Scott are exotic, William Rufus is said to have been John Lackland’s grandfather, but he was actually his great-great-uncle, and Wamba says “I am a poor brother of the Order of St Francis”, but St. Francis of Assisi only began his preaching ten years after the death of Richard I.”For a writer whose early novels were prized for their historical accuracy, Scott was remarkably loose with the facts when he wrote Ivanhoe… But it is crucial to remember that Ivanhoe, unlike the Waverly books, is entirely a romance. It is meant to please, not to instruct, and is more an act of imagination than one of research. Despite this fancifulness, however, Ivanhoe does make some prescient historical points.
The novel is occasionally quite critical of King Richard, who seems to love adventure more than he loves the well-being of his subjects. This criticism did not match the typical idealised, romantic view of Richard the Lion-Hearted that was popular when Scott wrote the book, and yet it accurately echoes the way King Richard is often judged by historians today.”Rebecca may be based on Rebecca Gratz, a Philadelphia teacher and philanthropist and the first Jewish female college student in America. Scott’s attention had been drawn to Gratz’s character by novelist Washington Irving, who was a close friend of the Gratz family. The assertion has been disputed, but it has been supported by “The Original of Rebecca in Ivanhoe”, in The Century Magazine in 1882. Legacy Sequels The 1839 Eglinton Tournament held by the 13th Earl of Eglinton at Eglinton Castle in Ayrshire was inspired and modelled on Ivanhoe.In 1850, novelist William Makepeace Thackeray wrote a sequel to Ivanhoe called Rebecca and Rowena.Edward Eager’s book Knight’s Castle magically transports four children into the story of Ivanhoe.Simon Hawke uses the story as the basis for The Ivanhoe Gambit the first novel in his time travel adventure series TimeWars.Pierre Efratas wrote a sequel called Le Destin d’Ivanhoe, published by Éditions Charles Corlet.Christopher Vogler wrote a sequel called Ravenskull, published by Seven Seas Publishing.Film, TV or theatrical adaptations The novel has been the basis for several motion pictures:Ivanhoe, United States 1911, directed by Stuart BlacktonIvanhoe United States 1913, directed by Herbert Brenon; with King Baggot, Leah Baird, and Brenon. Filmed on location in EnglandYe Olden Days United States 1933, directed by Burt Gillett Ivanhoe, Wales 1913, directed by Leedham Bantock, filmed at Chepstow CastleIvanhoe, 1952, directed by Richard Thorpe, starring Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Fontaine and George Sanders; nominated for three Oscars.The Revenge of Ivanhoe starred Rik Battaglia Ivanhoe, the Norman Swordsman aka La spada normanna, directed by Roberto Mauri The Ballad of the Valiant Knight Ivanhoe, USSR 1983, directed by Sergey Tarasov, with songs of Vladimir Vysotsky, starring Peteris Gaudins as Ivanhoe.There have also been many television adaptations of the novel, including:1958: A television series based on the character of Ivanhoe starring Roger Moore as Ivanhoe1970: A TV miniseries starring Eric Flynn as Ivanhoe.1982: Ivanhoe, a television movie starring Anthony Andrews as Ivanhoe.1986: Ivanhoe, a 1986 animated telemovie produced by Burbank Films in Australia.1995: Young Ivanhoe, a 1995 television movie directed by Ralph L. Thomas and starring Kristen Holden-Ried as Ivanhoe, Rachel Blanchard as Rowena, Stacy Keach as Pembrooke, Margot Kidder as Lady Margarite, Nick Mancuso as Bourget, and Matthew Daniels as Tuck.1997: Ivanhoe the King’s Knight a televised cartoon series produced by CINAR and France Animation. General retelling of classic tale.1997: Ivanhoe, a 6-part, 5-hour TV miniseries, a co-production of A&E and the BBC. It stars Steven Waddington as Ivanhoe, Ciarán Hinds as Bois-Guilbert, Susan Lynch as Rebecca, Ralph Brown as Prince John and Victoria Smurfit as Rowena.
1999: The Legend of Ivanhoe, a Columbia TriStar International Television production dubbed into English starring John Haverson as Ivanhoe and Rita Shaver as Rowena.2005: A Channel 5 adaptation entitled Dark Knight attempted to adapt Ivanhoe for an ongoing series. Ben Pullen played Ivanhoe and Charlotte Comer played Rebecca.Victor Sieg’s dramatic cantata Ivanhoé won the Prix de Rome in 1864 and premiered in Paris the same year. An operatic adaptation of the novel by Sir Arthur Sullivan ran for over 150 consecutive performances in 1891. Other operas based on the novel have been composed by Gioachino Rossini, Thomas Sari, Bartolomeo Pisani, A. Castagnier, Otto Nicolai, and Heinrich Marschner . Rossini’s opera is a pasticcio . Scott attended a performance of it and recorded in his journal, “It was an opera, and, of course, the story sadly mangled and the dialogue, in part nonsense.”Other The railway running through Ashby-de-la-Zouch was known as the Ivanhoe line, in reference to the book’s setting in the locality.In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem reads Ivanhoe to Mrs. Dubose. He thinks it is punishment for having decapitated her camellias in a fit of anger at her vitriolic criticism of Atticus, and although that is part of the reason, the main one is to help her through withdrawals from a morphine addiction.
The themes of Ivanhoe fit the events happening in TKaM: a father is disappointed in his son’s recent actions and he has to complete a task that, to him, is heroic to gain the respect he desires.See also Norman yokeTrysting Tree – several references are made to these trees as agreed gathering places.Ivanhoe, New South Wales, a small outback town in the Australian state of New South Wales, named circa 1869 by a pioneering Scottish-born settler.Ivanhoe, California, a small town founded in Tulare County, United States is named after the novel.Ivanhoe, North Carolina, a village in eastern North CarolinaIvanhoe, Victoria, a suburb in the Australian state of Victoria. Works cited: 1. External links Online text on WikisourceFirst edition at Google Books:,,Bibliography:[email protected]
The Adventures of Wilfred of Ivanhoe, Richard the Lion-Heart, the Outlaws of Sherwood Forest, and Other Heroes in Ivanhoe, a Novel by Sir Walter Scott
This novel, Ivanhoe, was written by Sir Walter Scott, and contains 500 pages of exciting drama and romance. It follows the adventures of Wilfred of Ivanhoe, Richard the Lion-Heart, the outlaws of Sherwood Forest, and many other exciting heroes and heroines. Ivanhoe has returned from the crusade to claim his lady love, Rowena, but is thwarted by his Father, Cedric the Saxon. Rebecca the Jewess heals Ivanhoe’s wounds after his tournament and begins to fall in love with someone who can never accept her as his wife. Bois-Guilbert, De Bracy, Front-de-Boeuf and many other Normans, wish to prevent Ivanhoe from his endeavors to begin anew after his long crusade, by kidnapping his lover, and attempts to wed her to a Norman knight, fighting to keep the fortress, rightfully belonging to Ivanhoe but usurped by Front-de-Boeuf, from the lawful master.
Scott is a masterful author, using the technique of beginning many threads of a story, but skillfully bringing them together to form a unique and epic collision of decisive and individual characters, providing great drama and entertainment for the reader. As you progress through his alluring chapters, you will soon notice this writer’s intention of keeping characters apart from one another to form a definite sense of realism and a real-life impression. Encouraging you to believe that this is a work for all ages and a timeless classic which will always be there to console you and lift your spirits, knowing that these characters have experienced the many elements of life which you are now enduring.
Many will take thoughts of the bravery of Ivanhoe, during the Tournament at Ashby, his chivalry towards Rebecca while she tends to him, and great generosity as he forgives the debts of those whom he had defeated, from this tale of long ago, but few will introduce them into their lives and daily troubles. Do they see his bravery to tell the truth, chivalry in manner towards his neighbor, and generosity to all, even his enemy. But this is the purpose of literature: To be shown that these virtues are possible to attain, that they will improve your life and relationships with others. To understand this is to become the true orchestrator of “the good life”. Otherwise, you disappoint the author, who poured his heart and soul into this incredible masterpiece, believing that his work would help change the world, and make it a better place to live in.
As one who sees life as it truly is, Sir Walter not only shows the good and beautiful side to life, but also the evil and conniving side. Prince John’s greed for power is a metaphor for those in life who strive to succeed through lies and deception, instead of those who ascend with the help of their own natural graces and honesty. Bois-Guilbert, who covets the beautiful Rebecca even, brings about her close death through his detestable selfishness, and Front-de-Boeuf’s avarice for the fortress of Ivanhoe. These are provided in the book, to show the destruction of those who take these sins as their creed through life. “Ivanhoe” is the ultimate “good versus evil” story and shows truly that the light always conquer the darkness.
The Inevitable Euhemerism of Sir Walter Scott
Somewhere along the normally parallel lines of reality and fiction, the two opposing entities meet in what has proven to be a breeding ground of entertainment. Its own kind of uncanny valley, there is something infinitely fascinating about that which mimics reality, but remains fiction – that which crosses the boarder into reality bearing an ethereal resemblance to the real only to vanish back into the realm of the fictitious. This flirtation between the real and represented worlds – this simultaneously uneasy yet transcendent dance across its boundaries – is both art and artifice, and the products it yields are seldom received without a corresponding ambivalence. Before reality television took the stage as the latest installment of this series of almost grotesque mock reality, the novel made its own popular but far from erudite appearance. Though the novel has since risen through the ranks and perhaps even surpassed the heights of literary nobility enjoyed by verse, it too once occupied the bottom feeding, soulless rank of reality television. Accused of the capital crime of falsehood masquerading as truth, the novel was decried as sinful, deceitful, and fake. If the inherently deceitful nature of verisimilitude offends, however, it also entertains.
Based perhaps most fundamentally on this premise of verisimilitude – an uncanny self-contained paradox of that which is like reality – the novel presents an interesting tension between fact and fiction, blurring what was once presumed an insoluble division between two absolute concepts. In Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott further obfuscates this perceived distinction between the real and represented worlds, offering the historical romance as an even more complex appendage to an already philosophically dense genre. The child of Scott’s experimentation with fact and falsehood, historical fiction in itself is inherently paradoxical. Even more than the novel form in general, the historical fiction genre incites tension between the dichotomy of true and false, fact and fiction. This kind of novel blends what should ostensibly be irreconcilable opposites: history – that which is presumed objectively true – and fiction, that which is presumed objectively false. In Ivanhoe, Scott seeks to resolve the tension that plagues the novel with accusations of deceit by ultimately discrediting the notion of objective truth – in history or narrative. While Scott’s tale illustrates the blending of the Saxon and Norman cultures, narratologically his work blends history and romance. However, neither act of communion is flawless. Just as the union of the Saxon and Norman realms results in the birth of a new national identity, but not without vanquishing the old order, Scott’s blending of history and romance simultaneously yields a new genre as well as the death of objective truth.
While even the earliest critics of Scott’s work – including, significantly, Scott himself – have noted and analyzed his complex relationship with history and fiction, the relationship is usually presented as a binary, one end of which Scott is ultimately said to champion over the other (Morillo and Newhouse, 270). In their analysis of Ivanhoe, John Morillo and Wade Newhouse attempt to “diverge from this dominant binary division in Scott criticism,” instead offering a reading that seeks to register the relationship, rather than the division, between fiction and history in Scott. Invoking James Kerr and his claim that “Scott challenges the validity of literary forms for representing the past by appealing to a reality beyond the boundaries of fiction,” Morillo and Newhouse make a case for seeing neither romance nor history as the vehicle by which Scott conveys truth (qtd. in Morillo and Newhouse 270). While ultimately we diverge in our conclusions – Morillo and Newhouse present a theory offering sound as the medium of Scott’s truth – our analyses both focus on Scott’s “suspicion about the falsifying power of all narratives” – historical or fictitious (Morillo and Newhouse 272).
If Scott’s novel as a whole is a narratological illustration of “the descent of history into romance” at work in the world, it is not a theme that functions entirely outside the characters’ realm of consciousness (Morillo and Newhouse 274). At various points in the novel, Scott depicts the characters themselves either directly witnessing or influencing the dissolution of fact into fiction. Once experience is filtered through narrative, it is inevitably and irrevocably colored with fiction.
Morillo and Newhouse point to the rapid spread and adulteration of the news of Athelstane’s apparent resuscitation as evidence of this theme at work in Scott’s represented world. When Athelstane himself offers the explanation, he defends it against the King’s skeptical remark that “such a tale is as well worth listening to as a romance,” claiming that in fact “there was no romance in the matter,” defending his first-hand account as truth corroborated by the facts of personal experience (Scott 473). Here, Scott addresses the opposing the nature of history and romance, implying a lesser dignity of the latter in Athelstane’s defense of his story against accusations of romance. Although Scott has no qualms about referring to Athelstane’s own account of the “history of his escape” as such, from there, Scott traces the transformation and ultimate corruption of the story into romance as it passes to various audiences (Scott 474). The path of Athelstane’s tale follows a large-scale version of the game telephone, transformed with each retelling until it reaches the height of romance as the dramatization sung by the “opportunistic minstrel, Alan-a-Dale” (Morillo and Newhouse 273). Here, Scott illustrates the rapidity with which history mingles with myth, and the impossibility of ever fully unraveling them once mixed. While Scott can at least defend Athelstane’s first-hand version of the story as the truth – being, as the author, the sole authority on what is and is not true within the world of his novel – real history is not afforded the luxury of guaranteed truth even in first-hand accounts. Once removed from the very moment of experience, truth becomes history, and thus begins its inevitable descent into romance.
A similar commentary on the impossibility of pure history surfaces earlier in the novel with Rebecca’s narration of the siege of Torquilstone. Unable to see the battle from the position from which his weakened state prevents movement, the bed-ridden – or rather floor-ridden – Ivanhoe has Rebecca narrate the events to him. As with all forms of narration Rebecca’s is, if not inaccurate, at least decidedly impure. Colored both by Rebecca’s perception – and misperception – as well as by Ivanhoe’s own altered reception of it, Scott depicts the inevitable sullying of history even from the moment of action itself. Even though Rebecca is a first-hand witness to the events she seeks to narrate in as close as physically possible to real time, even removed just one perspective and one moment from the instant of occurrence, history is lost irrevocably to the influence of narrative.
From this, Morillo and Newhouse make a case for seeing the roles of Rebecca and Ivanhoe as parallel to the roles of the author and reader, respectively. Completely at the mercy of Rebecca’s inexperienced and incomplete narrative, Ivanhoe must fill in the gaps left by her fragmentary knowledge of warfare with his own interpretations. He does so, naturally, by drawing on his own expectations of the reality which escapes him, informed and shaped by his “romantic visions of glory and heroism” (Morillo and Newhouse 278). Morillo and Newhouse liken Ivanhoe’s approach to interpretation to that of Scott’s reader. The “romantic predispositions” which shape Ivanhoe’s perceptions of the battle are not unlike those which shape the expectations of a reader of a romance novel (Morillo & Newhouse 279). However, Scott – like Rebecca – ultimately presents a divergence from these expectations.
In an obviously dated reading of Ivanhoe from 1955, Joseph E. Duncan challenges an allegedly widespread notion of the day that considered the novel “essentially a romantic book of adventure – preferably for boys” (293). If Duncan’s opening statements are troubling – particularly to the right of the em dash – he manages to recover with the closing argument that Ivanhoe, “far from being mainly juvenile and romantic, is essentially anti-romantic” (300). Although the view of Ivanhoe as an inversion of – or at least departure from – the expected paradigm of the romantic tradition seems almost inseparable from even the most basic reading of the novel, it was – at least according to Duncan himself – a largely unprecedented claim at the time (293). If Duncan is to be believed then, his argument – if relatively simplistic and uncomfortably peppered with an overly confident usage of the term “anti-chauvinistic” – set an important precedent that continues to form the basis of much modern criticism of Ivanhoe.
While criticism varies in its understanding of the implications of the “anti-romantic” trend in Ivanhoe, I present it as a response to Newhouse and Morillo’s aforementioned Rebecca-Ivanhoe and Scott-reader parallel. Just as Rebecca’s narrative subverts Ivanhoe’s expectations of romance and heroism, Scott, likewise, seeks to subvert the reader’s expectations of the traditional romance. In inverting conventional romantic traditions, Scott prevents the reader from being rewarded for shaping their perceptions of the world according to their expectations. Scott refuses to let the reader accept their own expectations for either romance or history as truth.
Meanwhile, the plot developments that result from Scott’s divergence from the expected romance operate on a level outside the world of the novel as well, with Ivanhoe’s imperfect union of the Saxon and Norman cultures mirroring Scott’s at times uncanny marriage of history and romance as a genre.
In his reading of Ivanhoe, Kenneth M. Sroka gives Duncan’s argument a much-needed update. Like Duncan, Sroka notes the tendency to mistake Ivanhoe, initially, for a “straightforward chivalric romance exemplifying the conventions of that form,” before pointing out that closer readings “reveal that Scott’s fidelity to the conventional romance form is tempered by altered conventions and deflations of idealistic imaginative elements” (Sroka 645).
While Sroka argues that Scott’s departure from the traditions of the romance signal Scott’s attempt to “create a more realistic romance,” I propose, rather, that Scott’s mingling of romance and history seeks to challenge the notion of reality altogether. While Sroka sees Ivanhoe as a tale of romance accredited and enhanced by historical truth, my reading sees the novel as historical truth adulterated, stained, and ultimately erased by romance.
Both Sroka and Duncan trace the ways in which Scott both follows and diverts from the traditional romance, with Sroka’s reading tracing Ivanhoe’s progression through Northrop Frye’s “three stages of the successful quest,” the conquest, the death struggle, and the recognition (Sroka 646). While Scott’s renditions of each of these stages show marked variations from the romantic convention, it is perhaps his treatment of the “recognition” stage that carries the greatest significance for the relationship between the social and philosophical implications of Scott’s treatment of the genre that I propose.
Not unlike the novel as a whole, Ivanhoe’s conclusion initially appears to be in keeping with the traditional conventions of the romance genre. The dawn of a new era of national unity is symbolized both by the fall of Torquilstone as well as the long-awaited union of Ivanhoe and Rowena, and the apparently stale conclusion almost renders Scott’s earlier inversions of the romantic convention entirely in vain. The novel is saved, however, by the inversion within each of these dramatizations.
While the fall of Torquilstone signals the promise of a new “future of peace and harmony,” it does not do so without simultaneously necessitating the death of the old order (Scott 499). Dramatized both in the literal fall of the castle as well as in the elegy to the tune of which Ulrica perishes, Scott makes it clear that the old order does not die a peaceful death. In fact, it is asserted that for this proposed harmony to reign, first “all must perish” (Scott 341). If Scott allows a world in which peace and unity are possible, he does not permit it unless preceded by extreme violence. Thus, just as Scott’s union of romance and history gives birth to a new genre at the price of objective truth, the union of the Saxon and Norman kingdoms gives birth to a new era, but at the price of the violent death of the old.
If the fall of Torquilstone signals the death of the old order, Scott ostensibly presents the union of Ivanhoe and Rowena as the promise of the new. Clearly equating the marriage to “a pledge of future peace and harmony betwixt two races,” Scott makes no attempt to veil the allegorical significance of his characters, paralleling the Ivanhoe-Rowena, Norman-Saxon “marriages” so closely they overlap in what threatens to become a hackneyed, fairy tale conclusion to an otherwise complex inversion of the traditional romance (Scott 499). Assuring us that “the hostile distinction of Norman and Saxon seems entirely to have disappeared,” Scott makes good on Ulrica’s promise that “strong hate itself shall expire,” and seems content to lay his narrative to rest with a comfortable, happy ending (Scott 498, 341). However, once again, Scott’s resolution is saved by a hidden inversion. While the union between Ivanhoe and Rowena is significant in its dramatization of the union between the Norman and Saxon realms, it is perhaps more significant in what it is not. That is to say, while Ivanhoe’s marriage to Rowena is consistent with the conventions of the romance genre, in Scott’s novel, the union is most notable in that it is not one between Ivanhoe and Rebecca. Neither Norman nor Saxon, Rebecca has no place in the “future of peace and harmony” promised by the Ivanhoe-Rowena marriage. Instead, Rebecca remains an outsider, to whom the supposedly harmonious people of England remain “a fierce race, ready to plunge the sword into the bowels of each other” (Scott 499).
Sroka likewise sees something “ominous” in Rebecca’s exclusion from the new order (654). This is perhaps because, aligning once again with Morillo and Newhouse’s analogy that proposes Rebecca as a stand in for Scott himself, Rebecca is the novel’s closest representation of objective truth. In “adopt[ing] Scott’s own more sober tone and role as novelist,” Rebecca, in theory, ultimately determines, knows, and establishes the truth in the world of the novel (Morillow and Newhouse 279). Just as Scott, as creator, has the authority and omnipresence within the world of the novel to assert that Athelstane’s original explanation is truth worthy of the term “history,” Rebecca should, in her adopted role, also figure as the novel’s ultimate authority on absolute truth. Thus, in excluding Rebecca from the harmonious new order, Scott simultaneously excludes truth. Just as there is no room for Rebecca’s people in the new blend of Norman and Saxon culture, there is no room for objective truth in Scott’s blend of history and romance.
If Scott excludes his appointed stand-in from the final union of history and romance, he does not make any attempts to reclaim the crown of omnipresence for himself. In fact, Scott rejects the notion of objective truth so absolutely that he refuses to claim any kind of objective knowledge even over the world of his own creation. Rather, in the novel’s “Dedicatory Epistle,” Scott abandons the role of novelist to the fictional Lawrence Templeton, thus refusing to let even the truth of his own authorship avoid permanent obfuscation by fiction. Appointing a fictional character to the position of the otherwise presumably objective third person narrator, as well as citing the obviously fictional “Waldour Manuscript” as the novel’s basis, Scott seemingly resigns his novel entirely to the realm of fiction, eliminating even the tenuous link between the real and represented worlds offered by the possibility of an author-narrator relationship.
And yet, Ivanhoe does not belong entirely to the world of fiction. While Scott’s appointed author and narrator is fictional, some of his characters are not. Real historical figures walk the pages of Ivanhoe beneath the narration of a “fictional” author in yet another inversion of literary convention. Scott’s amalgam of history and romance, fact and fiction, reality and representation is so complex, convoluted, and even arcane that any semblance of objective truth is rendered absolutely unsalvageable from the wreckage.
Morillo and Newhouse see Scott’s refusal to separate fact and fiction as evidence that Scott “is at heart a euhemerist” (Morillo and Newhouse 274). If Scott is a euhemerist, it is only because he can be nothing else. Scott is aware, above all, of the impossibility of “history as unvarnished truth,” and seeks not to present myth as fact, but rather to suggest that all fact inevitably descends into myth (Morillo and Newhouse 275). Ultimately, Scott is aware that truth fades irrevocably the moment it is passed through narrative. By denouncing the possibility of truth in Ivanhoe, Scott saves himself the guaranteed failure of trying to represent historical truth in fiction. In Ivanhoe Scott illustrates that history, no less than romance, is a form of narration – fact filtered irrevocably through perception – and thus can only ever present a distorted version of the truth.
Duncan, Joseph E. “The Anti-Romantic in ‘Ivanhoe.’” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 9, no. 4, (1955): pp. 293–300. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.
Morillo, John, and Wade Newhouse. “History, Romance, and the Sublime Sound of Truth in ‘Ivanhoe.’” Studies in the Novel, vol. 32, no. 3, 2000, pp. 267–295. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.
Scott, Walter. Ivanhoe. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Print
Sroka, Kenneth M. “The Function of Form: Ivanhoe as Romance.” Studies in English Literature,1500-1900, vol. 19, no. 4, (1979): pp. 645–660. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.
Racism in Ivanhoe
The Normans and the Saxons have expected racism throughout the novel but the ultimate racism is against the Jews. While both Normans and Saxons dislike each other with a somewhat good reason, both, however, are outrageously callous towards Isaac and Rebecca with no real reason. Though Isaac has his flaws, these flaws have no addition to the treatment he receives, shown through the initial introduction of Isaac upon asking for a place to stay to evade the storm. Further, Isaac will be treated with humiliation, both attempted and actual robbery, and brutal attacks all because of his race and religion. The Normans and Saxons do have a real feud with arguably great reason but the Jews have committed no such havoc. From the start of the novel, the reader is immediately engrossed into this feud and hear Gurth and Wamba speaking of their dislike for the Normans. This quarrel inspires Wamba to deliberately misdirect the Norman travelers and causes Gurth to even threaten them. “Gurth darted at him a savage and revengeful scowl, and with a fierce yet hesitating motion laid his hand on the haft of his knife” Thus showing the increasing hatred between the races. However, this hatred is expected and is not without cause and therefore it is not so much racism as it is a conflict for power. Normally the Saxons have power with King Richard in command but as he left the throne to Prince John, the Norman nobles have taken advantage of the lack of power. For the Normans and Saxons, it is a very civil feud where they still live among one another and though full of spite still can share a meal and go to events with some sense of peace.
The Jews in this story are not as lucky in their standings on such prejudices. As mentioned Isaac the main Jew in this story does have flaws but these flaws have no relation to their hatred of him. This is fully conveyed when Isaac first arrives at Cedric’s castle. While Sir Brian and Prior Aymer arrive at the castle and are taken in with much hospitality and only a few passive remarks, Isaac receives the opposite treatment. When the messenger declares to Cedric that there is a man seeking shelter; Cedric immediately grants his welcome but the messenger then feels the need to add that the man is a Jew. “It is a Jew, who calls himself Isaac of York; is it fit I should marshal him into the hall?” “Let Gurth do thine office, Oswald,” said Wamba with his usual effrontery: “the swineherd will be a fit usher for the Jew.” The fact that he is a Jew is all Cedric’s castle needs to make their full judgment of him. The Normans respond with an even graver amount of disdain saying: “’St. Mary,’ said the Abbot, crossing himself, ‘an unbelieving Jew, and admitted into this presence!’ ‘A dog Jew,’ echoed the Templar, ‘to approach a defender of the Holy Sepulchre?’” This immediate hatred towards the Jew without even meeting him shows that has no connection to Isaacs’s flawed personality.
The one mark on Cedric’s defense is he does allow Isaac into his hall anyways but this later is revealed to only be a mark against the Normans and not out of kindness. Cedric declares upon Brian and Aymers disapproval; ‘Peace, my worthy guest,’ said Cedric; ‘my hospitality must not be bounded by your dislikes. If Heaven bore with the whole nation of stiff-necked unbelievers for more years than a layman can number we may endure the presence of one Jew for a few hours. ’ While this sounds as if Cedric is being open-minded it is actually later shown that Cedric has similar disdain towards the Jews. Cedric was simply trying to claim dominance over his Norman visitors and actually could not care less about Isaacs’s well-being. Further, into the story at the tournament, Isaac goes with his daughter to sit with the high-class people and this brings about many objections from all around him including Cedric himself. “‘Let me see,’ said the Prince, ‘who dare stop him!’ fixing his eye on Cedric, whose attitude intimated his intention to hurl the Jew down headlong.” Therefore, Cedric like the rest of the Saxons maintain the same contempt for the Jews as any other.
Moreover, the prince himself, who is infamously known as wicked, offers the worst crime against the Jew as seen in the novel. In this scene in which Isaac poorly choose to try and be treated equal, Prince John performs a horrible humiliation towards the unsuspecting Jew. Prince John declares Isaac can sit on the higher level and upon Isaacs’s ascension, the Prince further asks Cedric or anyone to rid the high class of the Jew. Wamba arises to the task and beats the poor Isaac causing him to tumble down to the lowest level. But if this embarrassing crowd pleaser was not enough the Prince additionally has the audacity to request money from the injured man. Isaac in shame not only hesitantly obeys but in his obedience is robbed of his whole purse. This scene shows fully the lack of respect the Jews get and in the Norman and Saxons hatred towards Jews they even put aside their disputes to unite against the innocent, and mutually hated Jews. This crime in its fullness is the symbolic affirmation that the Normans and Saxons in this novel are infinitely more racist against an undeserving victim rather than the reasonable and instigated feud between themselves.
The only one throughout the novel in which takes pity on the Jew and somewhat treats Isaac with respect is the protagonist, Ivanhoe. Ivanhoe in his righteousness hears of a plot to rob Isaac of his possessions from Brian’s slaves. Immediately Ivanhoe, in disguise as a palmer, helps Isaac avoid this misconduct. ‘Leave this mansion instantly, while its inmates sleep sound after the last night’s revel. I will guide you by the secret paths of the forest, known as well to me as to any forester that ranges it, and I will not leave you till you are under safe conduct of some chief or baron going to the tournament, whose good-will you have probably the means of securing. ’ This is the first and one of the only means of kindness the Jew receives throughout the novel. While Isaac has been facing nothing but scrutiny and disdain simply because of his religion and race, this one gesture means that much more to the reader and to Isaac. The fact that they live in an extremely prejudice world, having Ivanhoe break these prejudices and help the Jew and breaking said racism shows Ivanhoe as so much more and provides a very admirable quality in his character that no reader could dislike.
Though the Normans and Saxons have an expected prejudice against one another with some semblance of reason to it, the utmost prejudice is against the undeserving Jews. This is shown by the Norman and Saxons constant bickering and general disdain but overall they do live among one another civilly enough. This is more than one could say about the Jews in this story, while the Normans and Saxons treat each other with somewhat respect, the Jews are constantly humiliated and treated absolutely horribly. Though some characters seem to at least look to the Jews as humans, like Cedric refusing to leave Isaac out in the storm, there is still arguably evidence that he too was simply doing so to provoke his Norman visitors. The real shame is when the prince himself, who is acting king at the time, gives Isaac the greatest humiliation of the novel and gives a solid proof that the Saxons and Normans are more racist towards the Jews. Among the novel the one person who stands against it is the protagonist, who shows one act of kindness for the Jew, making at least one civil character within the novel. Though there are much racism and prejudices throughout Ivanhoe, the ones who suffer the most from it are the guiltless Jews.
Scott, Walter. Ivanhoe Broadway, NY: Signet Classic, 1962.
Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe (Broadway, NY: Signet Classic, 1962), 44.
Scott, 97. Scott, 78-79.