…and the greatness of Ivanhoe goes on. Here are some more things I found to love in this fabulous book.
There are so many great ironies (things that are opposite of what would seem fitting) – here’s just one:
Rebecca is almost the only innocent person in this book, and it is she who is put on trial for wickedness (for sorcery, because she is Jewish and a medical healer – clearly, she must be evil). It is also ironic that, between she and Brian de Bois-Guilbert, she is the wicked one and he the “innocent” (according to that time’s definitions).
Then, several hypocrisies:
Prince John: A confused rumor began to spread that De Bracy, Bois-Guilbert, and Front-de-Boeuf (Normans, on John’s side or the Richard/John conflict) had been captured or killed because of their kidnapping of the Saxons. Scott says, “At another time the Prince would have treated this deed of violence as a good jest; but now that it interfered with and impeded his own plans, he exclaimed against the perpetrators, and spoke of the broken laws, and the infringement of public order and of private property, in a tone which might have become King Alfred.”
Bois-Guilbert: “Will future ages believe that such stupid bigotry ever existed?” (Because, you know, he himself is the soul of impartiality, open-mindedness, and tolerance of people of other races or religions than himself…)
…that Scott describes the din of Templars as they’re discussing Rebecca’s “trial” as “the rushing of mighty waters,” which is a phrase often used in the Bible for the voice of God.
The way Scott sets up Rebecca and Rowena as character foils (two characters who are alike in some ways, and that likeness highlights their differences):
Rebecca and Rowena are the two main females of the novel, and their names are even similar (they’re just begging to be compared). They both belong to non-ruling races, as the Normans are in power.
Rowena, a Saxon, noble of birth but not of spirit, is one of the main driving forces in the first half of the novel, but is barely in it herself. Ivanhoe is motivated by love of her, Athelstane is engaged to her, and Cedric (her guardian) does everything for her and protects her… she is even the primary motivation for the great kidnapping incident by the Normans. But of her direct action or description, there is little. She is self-absorbed, proud, and used to getting her own way in everything.
Rebecca, a Jew, is noble of spirit but not of birth. Despised by all for her race and religion, she motivates almost no one in the first half of the story. But in the second half, she is the driving force for most of the action – Bois-Guilbert’s lusting for her, Isaac trying to rescue her, being put on trial by the Templars, and Ivanhoe saving her life. And she has extensive narration and description – caring for the wounded Ivanhoe, making speeches about nobility and chivalry to a knight who doesn’t live up to his own title, and defending herself in “court” with honor and integrity. She is quite possibly the only fully good character in the novel (or at least, the only person who is characterized extensively and is good). She’s gentle, humble, and has spent her life studying herbal medicine, while Rowena has done nothing with her time but ‘be a noble.’
A few last comments:
Sir Walter Scott does a beautiful job of making you hate the bad characters. I quote Malvoisin, a leader of the Templars: “Women are but the toys that amuse our lighter hours. Ambition is the serious business of life.”
Wamba, Cedric the Saxon’s fool (jester), is hilarious, as in the scene where De Bracy asks Rowena’s forgiveness for kidnapping her: “I forgive you, Sir Knight,” said Rowena, “as a Christian.”
“That means,” said Wamba, “that she does not forgive him at all.”
Rebecca has another great line when Bois-Guilbert is trying to convert her to Christianity so he’d be allowed to marry her: “I envy not thy faith, which is ever in thy mouth but never in thy heart nor in thy practice.”
Scott’s brilliant commentary on the justice system: “Trial moves rapidly on when the judge has determined the sentence beforehand.”
Friends, read it, read it, read it! This book is so good.