Fun fact: Evidently, Sir Walter Scott invented the genre of historical fiction. (Thanks, Christy Somerville, for this tidbit!) I’m so, so glad he did – I believe historical fiction is my favorite genre (and it’s certainly the one I read the most of!)
Ivanhoe is your quintessential knights-and-damsels novel. Featuring Robin Hood, Prince John, Templars, feisty Saxons, and even Richard Coeur de Lion (the Lionheart) himself, it doesn’t get much better. I’m going to have to split it into two posts, because there’s just so much good stuff!
I find it interesting that the language of the story is neither that of the time period in which it was written (early 1800’s) nor that of the story (1100’s). It’s smack in between: Shakespearean-esque. But, hey, Sir Walter Scott didn’t have all the information at his fingertips that we have now, so one can’t blame him too much…
Things I love about this book:
- Hilarious, honest descriptions of characters: Gurth the swineherd is “rough and impetuous as a wild boar.” Athelstane, the closest to royal line that the Saxons have left, is characterized as “Athelstane the Unready, slow, irresolute, procrastinating, and unenterprising.” (Wow, how complimentary.)
- The tongue-in-cheek descriptions of characters we are meant to despise: Maurice de Bracy “possessed his full proportion of the ignorance which characterized the ignorance of the period” (translation: wasn’t able to read).
- It shows so well the horrible prejudices and stupidities of the time. Many say they would rather die than receive the medical aid of a Jew; then, there’s this gem: “…here is the stout Reginald Baron Front-de-Boeuf, whose utter abomination is a Jew, and the good Knight Templar, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, whose trade is to slay Saracens. If these are not good marks of Christianity, I know no other which they bear about them.” Uhh yeah. I find some traits of true Christians lacking… to say the least.
- The Jewess, Rebecca – without doubt the most despised person in the novel, for being both Jewish and a woman – entreating the Templar, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, to actually live the faith he claims. This is seen multiple times, but one of my favorites is when he tries to convince her to become his mistress if he will save her. Rebecca responds, “Put not a price on my deliverance, sir knight! Sell not a deed of generosity. Protect the oppressed for the sake of charity, and not for a selfish advantage!” (Read: How about you actually be chivalrous, since you’re a knight?)
- Rebecca’s commentary on battle: “Great God, hast thou given men Thine own image, that it should be thus cruelly defaced by the hands of their brethren?”
One of the things that amuses me most in the first half of Ivanhoe is the whole kidnapping idea. These three Normans – de Bracy, Front-de-Boeuf, and de Bois-Guilbert decide that it’s a good idea to kidnap Cedric the Saxon’s group of travelers so that Front-de-Boeuf can hold Isaac the Jew for ransom, Bois-Guilbert can try to convince Isaac’s daughter Rebecca to sleep with him, and de Bracy can try to woo the lovely Saxon Rowena.
Let this not escape your notice, dear reader: two of these men are kidnapping women to try to romance them. Ummm. YES. That’s exactly what will win a woman’s heart, guys. Good job.
A final comment for this week: As Brian de Bois-Guilbert tries to sweet-talk Rebecca into sleeping with him, he makes the excuse for his actions as a knight of the Templars by the actions of Solomon: “The protectors of Solomon’s Temple may claim license by the example of Solomon.”
Rebecca returns, “If thou readest the Scripture and the lives of the saints only to justify thine own license and profligacy, thy crime is like that of him who extracts poison from the most healthful and necessary herbs.”