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Walter Scott



 

Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet

Scottish writer

born August 15, 1771, Edinburgh
died September 21, 1832, Abbotsford, Roxburgh, Scotland

Scottish novelist, poet, historian, and biographer who is often considered both the inventor and the greatest practitioner of the historical novel.

Scott’s father was a lawyer and his mother was the daughter of a physician. From his earliest years, Scott was fond of listening to his elderly relatives’ accounts and stories of the Scottish Border, and he soon became a voracious reader of poetry, history, drama, and fairy tales and romances. He had a remarkably retentive memory and astonished visitors by his eager reciting of poetry. His explorations of the neighbouring countryside developed in him both a love of natural beauty and a deep appreciation of the historic struggles of his Scottish forebears.

Scott was educated at the high school at Edinburgh and also for a time at the grammar school at Kelso. In 1786 he was apprenticed to his father as writer to the signet, a Scots equivalent of the English solicitor (attorney). His study and practice of law were somewhat desultory, for his immense youthful energy was diverted into social activities and into miscellaneous readings in Italian, Spanish, French, German, and Latin. After a very deeply felt early disappointment in love, he married, in December 1797, Charlotte Carpenter, of a French royalist family, with whom he lived happily until her death in 1826.

In the mid-1790s Scott became interested in German Romanticism, Gothic novels, and Scottish border ballads. His first published work, The Chase, and William and Helen (1796), was a translation of two ballads by the German Romantic balladeer G.A. Bürger. A poor translation of Goethe’s Götz von Berlichingen followed in 1799. Scott’s interest in border ballads finally bore fruit in his collection of them entitled Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, 3 vol. (1802–03). His attempts to “restore” the orally corrupted versions back to their original compositions sometimes resulted in powerful poems that show a sophisticated Romantic flavour. The work made Scott’s name known to a wide public, and he followed up his first success with a full-length narrative poem, The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), which ran into many editions. The poem’s clear and vigorous storytelling, Scottish regionalist elements, honest pathos, and vivid evocations of landscape were repeated in further poetic romances, including Marmion (1808), The Lady of the Lake (1810), which was the most successful of these pieces, Rokeby (1813), and The Lord of the Isles (1815).

Scott led a highly active literary and social life during these years. In 1808 his 18-volume edition of the works of John Dryden appeared, followed by his 19-volume edition of Jonathan Swift (1814) and other works. But his finances now took the first of several disastrous turns that were to partly determine the course of his future career. His appointment as sheriff depute of the county of Selkirk in 1799 (a position he was to keep all his life) was a welcome supplement to his income, as was his appointment in 1806 as clerk to the Court of Session in Edinburgh. But he had also become a partner in a printing (and later publishing) firm owned by James Ballantyne and his irresponsible brother John. By 1813 this firm was hovering on the brink of financial disaster, and although Scott saved the company from bankruptcy, from that time onward everything he wrote was done partly in order to make money and pay off the lasting debts he had incurred. Another ruinous expenditure was the country house he was having built at Abbotsford, which he stocked with enormous quantities of antiquarian objects.

By 1813 Scott had begun to tire of narrative poetry, and the greater depth and verve of Lord Byron’s narrative poems threatened to oust him from his position as supreme purveyor of this kind of literary entertainment. In 1813 Scott rediscovered the unfinished manuscript of a novel he had started in 1805, and in the early summer of 1814 he wrote with extraordinary speed almost the whole of his novel, which he titled Waverley. It was one of the rare and happy cases in literary history when something original and powerful was immediately recognized and enjoyed by a large public. A story of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, it reinterpreted and presented with living force the manners and loyalties of a vanished Scottish Highland society. The book was published anonymously, as were all of the many novels he wrote down to 1827.

In Waverley and succeeding novels Scott’s particular literary gifts could be utilized to their fullest extent. First and foremost, he was a born storyteller who could place a large cast of vivid and varied characters in an exciting and turbulent historical setting. He was also a master of dialogue who felt equally at home with expressive Scottish regional speech and the polished courtesies of knights and aristocrats. His deep knowledge of Scottish history and society and his acute observation of its mores and attitudes enabled him to play the part of a social historian in insightful depictions of the whole range of Scottish society, from beggars and rustics to the middle classes and the professions and on up to the landowning nobility. The attention Scott gave to ordinary people was indeed a marked departure from previous historical novels’ concentration on royalty. His flair for picturesque incidents enabled him to describe with equal vigour both eccentric Highland personalities and the fierce political and religious conflicts that agitated Scotland during the 17th and 18th centuries. Finally, Scott was the master of a rich, ornate, seemingly effortless literary style that blended energy with decorum, lyric beauty with clarity of description.

Scott followed up Waverley with a whole series of historical novels set in Scotland that are now known as the “Waverley” novels. Guy Mannering (1815) and The Antiquary (1816) completed a sort of trilogy covering the period from the 1740s to just after 1800. The first of four series of novels published under the title Tales of My Landlord was composed of The Black Dwarf and the masterpiece Old Mortality (1816). These were followed by the masterpieces Rob Roy (1817) and The Heart of Midlothian (1818), and then by The Bride of Lammermoor and A Legend of Montrose (both 1819). It was only after writing these novels of Scottish history that Scott, driven by the state of his finances and the need to satisfy the public appetite for historical fiction that he himself had created, turned to themes from English history and elsewhere. He thus wrote Ivanhoe (1819), a novel set in 12th-century England and one that remains his most popular book. The Monastery and The Abbot followed in 1820, and The Pirate and The Fortunes of Nigel appeared in 1822. Two more masterpieces were Kenilworth (1821), set in Elizabethan England, and the highly successful Quentin Durward (1823), set in 15th-century France. The best of his later novels are Redgauntlet (1824) and The Talisman (1825), the latter being set in Palestine during the Crusades.

In dealing with the recent past of his native country, Scott was able to find a fictional form in which to express the deep ambiguities of his own feeling for Scotland. On the one hand he welcomed Scotland’s union with England and the commercial progress and modernization that it promised to bring, but on the other he bitterly regretted the loss of Scotland’s independence and the steady decline of its national consciousness and traditions. Novel after novel in the “Waverley” series makes clear that the older, heroic tradition of the Scottish Jacobite clans (supporters of the exiled Stuart king James II and his descendants) had no place in the modern world; the true heroes of Scott’s novels are thus not fighting knights-at-arms but the lawyers, farmers, merchants, and simple people who go about their business oblivious to the claims and emotional ties of a heroic past. Scott became a novelist by bringing his antiquarian and romantic feeling for Scotland’s past into relation with his sense that Scotland’s interests lay with a prudently commercial British future. He welcomed civilization, but he also longed for individual heroic action. It is this ambivalence that gives vigour, tension, and complexity of viewpoint to his best novels.

Scott’s immense earnings in those years contributed to his financial downfall. Eager to own an estate and to act the part of a bountiful laird, he anticipated his income and involved himself in exceedingly complicated and ultimately disastrous financial agreements with his publisher, Archibald Constable, and his agents, the Ballantynes. He and they met almost every new expense with bills discounted on work still to be done; these bills were basically just written promises to pay at a future date. This form of payment was an accepted practice, but the great financial collapse of 1825 caused the four men’s creditors to demand actual and immediate payment in cash. Constable was unable to meet his liabilities and went bankrupt, and he in turn dragged down the Ballantynes and Scott in his wake because their financial interests were inextricably intermingled. Scott assumed personal responsibility for both his and the Ballantynes’ liabilities and thus courageously dedicated himself for the rest of his life to paying off debts amounting to about £120,000.

Everyone paid tribute to the selfless honesty with which he set himself to work to pay all his huge debts. Unfortunately, though, the corollary was reckless haste in the production of all his later books and compulsive work whose strain shortened his life. After the notable re-creation of the end of the Jacobite era in Redgauntlet, he produced nothing equal to his best early work, though his rapidity and ease of writing remained largely unimpaired, as did his popularity. Scott’s creditors were not hard with him during this period, however, and he was generally revered as the grand old man of English letters. In 1827 Scott’s authorship of the “Waverley” novels was finally made public. In 1831 his health deteriorated sharply, and he tried a continental tour with a long stay at Naples to aid recovery. He was taken home and died in 1832.

Scott gathered the disparate strands of contemporary novel-writing techniques into his own hands and harnessed them to his deep interest in Scottish history and his knowledge of antiquarian lore. The technique of the omniscient narrator and the use of regional speech, localized settings, sophisticated character delineation, and romantic themes treated in a realistic manner were all combined by him into virtually a new literary form, the historical novel. His influence on other European and American novelists was immediate and profound, and though interest in some of his books declined somewhat in the 20th century, his reputation remains secure. Scott wrote articles on “Chivalry,” “Romance,” and “Drama” for Encyclopædia Britannica’s fourth edition (1801–09).

 

 

Rob Roy

Sir Walter Scott
1771-1832

Despite its title, this fiction recounts more the experiences of one Frank Osbaldistone than any sustained history of the life of its eponymous outlaw, the legendary "Scottish Robin Hood." And yet, this distinctly Scottish romance was influential not only in consolidating the disparate accounts of the life of Rob Roy MacGregor, but also in mythologizing the Scottish highlands as the place of sublime but barbaric attraction for many English tourists. The novel is set against the backdrop of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. Scott's narrative tracks Frank's experiences as he journeys from his family home in London, to his uncle's residence in Northumbria, and on to Glasgow and the highlands of Scotland. Frank crosses the Scottish border in order to retrieve the assets of his father. This general movement northward brings with it exposure to a range of colorful personalities, not least the legendary Rob Roy, who assists Frank in the recovery of the assets.
Much of the narrative impetus derives from the conflicts and divisions that had plagued Great Britain ever since the Act of Union of 1707. But the vision that Scott ultimately offers up in Rob Roy is one in which the tensions between commerce and poetry, English and Scottish, Jacobite and Hanoverian, highland and lowland, Catholic and Protestant have been successfully reconciled.

 

The Monastery

Sir Walter Scott
1771-1832

Set in the lawless terrain of the Scottish Borders between the years 1550 and 1575, The Monastery records the fate of the isolated Catholic monastery of Kennaquhair as it comes into conflict with the competing doctrines of radical Protestant Reform. Scott's imagination for this historical romance seems to have been fueled by the ruins of Melrose Abbey close to his home at Abbotsford, themselves a testament to the religious and political struggles of Scotland's past. These broader ideological conflicts, though, are played out in the narrative through a range of intense relationships: between the Catholic Sub-Prior Eustace and his one-time school friend the Protestant preacher Henry Warden, between a lover and his beloved, between one brother and the next. The sympathies ultimately offered up by the narrative are firmly Protestant in orientation. However, Scott's decidedly gothic penchant in The Monastery for terror, supernatural suspense, and muted forms of anti-Catholicism is carefully counterbalanced by the comic elements generated through the linguistic idiosyncrasies of Sir Piercie Shafton. Culminating in the arrival of the Reformers, the final procession of the monks of Kennaquhair, and the eventual dissolution of the monastery, Scott's romance is at once an account of his native Scottish past, and an anticipation of a national, political, and religious future. Both these themes are more thoroughly explored in the sequel to The Monastery.The Abbot'(1820).

 

Ivanhoe

Sir Walter Scott
1771-1832

Ivanhoe details the political and cultural enmity between the subjugated Saxons and their Norman-French overlords during the reign of Richard the Lionheart in the twelfth century. Wilfred of Ivanhoe, a brave Saxon knight, returns from the Crusades to assist King Richard in recovering his throne from his usurping brother Prince John. To this endeavor, the assistance of a range of other personages, both historical and imaginary, is central. The narrative is urged forward by three confrontations of epic proportions: the tournament at Ashby-de-la-Zouche, the siege of Torquilstone Castle, and the rescuing of the heroine Rebecca from Templestowe, the seat of the Knights Templar. In each instance, conflict and bloody warfare ensue; at other moments, elements gleaned from gothic romance take precedence. Yet for all the delight that he takes in the sheer vitality of chivalry, Scott also subtly critigues warfare.
With its focus on medieval England, Ivanhoe signalled a change from the Scottish subject-matter of Scott's earlier Waveriey novels. As a sustained examination of the political, chivalric, and romantic practices of old, this fiction not only galvanized fora number of later writers and readers not only their impression of the medieval past, but also pioneered the genre of the historical novel, the literary form most often used to express it.


IVANHOE: A Romance
 

Type of work: Novel
Author: Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
Type of plot: Historical romance
Time of plot: 1194
Locale: England
First published: 1819

 

For a hundred and fifty years, Ivanhoe has held its charm in the popular mind as the epitome of chivalric novels. Among its characters are two of the most popular of English heroes, Richard the Lion-Hearted and Robin Hood. It may not be Scott's greatest novel, but it is without doubt his most popular.

 

Principal Characters

Cedric the Saxon, the rude, warlike master of Rother-wood, a small landholder during the reign of Richard I. Obstinately hoping for Saxon independence, he wishes his ward, Lady Rowena, to marry Athelstane of Con-ingsburgh, a descendant of the ancient Saxon kings, and he disinherits his son, Wilfred of Ivanhoe, for learning Norman customs. When Ivanhoe returns from the Crusades and falls wounded after winning the tournament at Ashby-de-la-Zouche, Cedric allows him to be cared for by strangers. Captured by Normans, Cedric is taken to Torquilstone Castle, but he escapes and helps the besiegers take the castle. In the end he becomes somewhat reconciled to the marriage of Ivanhoe and Rowena and with Norman rule under King Richard I.
Wilfred of Ivanhoe, the chivalrous, disowned hero, a Crusader. Returning home disguised as a pilgrim, he befriends a Jew, Isaac of York, and his daughter Rebecca on the way to the tournament at Ashby. After defeating his opponents in the tourney he reveals his true identity and faints from loss of blood while accepting the prize from Rowena. Captured with the Jew, along with Cedric and his party, he is cared for by Rebecca at Torquilstone and is rescued by the disguised King Richard. He repays Rebecca's kindness by defending her when she is accused of witchcraft. After Athelstane relinquishes his claim to Rowena, Ivanhoe marries her and enjoys prosperity under Richard's rule.
Lady Rowena, Cedric's beautiful ward. At Rother-wood she inquires of Ivanhoe's exploits from the disguised knight himself, becomes the tournament queen at his request, and learns his identity after he is declared victor. Seized by Norman knights, she is saved from the advances of a captor and the Torquilstone fire by the timely intervention of Richard, Cedric, and Robin Hood. Happy when Athelstane disclaims her, she weds Ivanhoe.
Isaac of York, an avaricious but kindly Jew. He supplies Ivanhoe with a horse and armor for the tournament and takes him off to be cared for after the knight has been wounded. Isaac is taken prisoner and about to be tortured for his gold when rescuers lay siege to the castle. He is set free but forced to pay a ransom. Learning of his daughter's abduction at the hands of haughty Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, he sends for Ivanhoe to rescue her. Sick of England, he and his daughter move to Spain.
Rebecca, the generous, lovely Jewess who returns Ivanhoe's payment for the horse and armor and nurses his wound. She is carried off by an enamored Templar during the siege. Accused of witchcraft at Templar headquarters, she is rescued from burning by the exhausted Ivanhoe's defense.
Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert (bre-an da bwa'-gelber'), the fierce and passionate Templar who kidnaps Rebecca, deserts her because of Templar politics, and fights a fatal battle against her defender, Ivanhoe.
Richard the Lion-Hearted, an audacious, hardy king. Secretly returning to England, he saves Ivanhoe's life at the tournament and leads the siege of Torquilstone. After thwarting an ambush, he throws off his disguise of the "Black Sluggard" and claims his rightful throne.
Robin Hood (Locksley), the famed outlaw. He wins an archery contest, supports Richard during the siege of Torquilstone, and becomes a loyal subject of the restored King.
Athelstane of Coningsburgh (ath'al-stan), the sluggish Saxon knight who half-heartedly woos Rowena and loses fights with Richard and Bois-Guilbert.
Maurice de Bracy, an ambitious Norman who captures Rowena; however, he possesses too much honor to pursue his designs on her.
Reginald Front de Boeuf (re-zhe-ïàà fron' da bef), the savage Norman who seizes Isaac for his gold. He dies of a wound inflicted by Richard amid the flames of Torquilstone.
Prince John, Richard's haughty, unscrupulous brother, who has tried to usurp the throne with the aid of the Norman nobles.
Lucas de Beaumanoir (lu-ka' da bo-manwar'), the bigoted, ascetic head of the Templars who presides over Rebecca's trial on a charge of witchcraft. His Order is disbanded by Richard because of treasonous activities and plotting against the king and the realm.
Philip and Albert Malvoisin (alber' malvwazari'), Templars executed by King Richard for treason.
Waldemar Fitzurse (val-damar' fits-ers'), Prince John's wily, aspiring follower, who is banished by Richard.
Aymer (a'mer), the comfort-loving Prior of Jorvaulx, who is captured by Robin Hood and forced to pay a ransom.
Ulrica (ool-ã¸'êý), the Saxon hag who burns Torquil-stone in order to be revenged on the Normans.
Gurth, Cedric's swineherd and Ivanhoe's loyal servant, who is given his freedom.
Wamba, Cedric's quick-witted jester; he helps Cedric escape Torquilstone by dressing him in a priest's robe.
Friar Tuck, Robin Hood's hefty, hearty follower, a hedge priest who treats Richard to a meal.

 

The Story

Night was drawing near when Prior Aymer of Jorvaux and the haughty Templar, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, overtook a swineherd and a fool by the roadside and asked directions to Rotherwood, the dwelling of Cedric the Saxon. The answers of these serfs so confused the Templar and the Prior that they would have gone far afield had it not been for a pilgrim from the Holy Land whom they encountered shortly afterward. The pilgrim was also traveling to Rotherwood, and he brought them safely to Cedric's hall, where they claimed lodging for the night. The custom of the rude days afforded hospitality to all benighted travelers, and so Cedric gave a grudging welcome to the Norman lords.
There was a feast at Rotherwood that night. On the dais beside Cedric the Saxon sat his ward, the lovely Lady Rowena, descendant of the ancient Saxon princes. It was the old man's ambition to wed her to Athelstane of Coningsburgh of the line of King Alfred. Because his son, Wilfred of Ivanhoe, had fallen in love with Rowena, Cedric had banished him, and the young knight had gone with King Richard to Palestine. None in the banquet hall that night suspected that the pilgrim was Ivanhoe himself.
Another traveler who had claimed shelter at Rotherwood that night was an aged Jew, Isaac of York. Hearing some orders the Templar muttered to his servants at the feast's end, Ivanhoe warned the Jew that Bois-Guilbert had designs on his moneybag or his person. Without taking leave of their host the next morning, the disguised pilgrim and Isaac of York left Rotherwood and continued on to the nearby town of Ashby de la Zouche.
Many other travelers were also on their way to the town, for a great tournament was to be held there. Prince John, regent of England in King Richard's absence, would preside. The winner of the tournament would be allowed to name the Queen of Love and Beauty and receive the prize of the passage of arms from her hands.
Ivanhoe attended the tournament with the word Disinherited written upon his shield. Entering the lists, he struck the shield of Bois-Guilbert with the point of his lance and challenged the knight to mortal combat. In the first passage, both knights splintered their lances, but neither was unhorsed. At the second passage, Ivanhoe's lance struck Bois-Guilbert's helmet and upset him. Then one by one, Ivanhoe vanquished five knights who had agreed to take on all comers. When the heralds declared the Disinherited Knight victor of the tourney, Ivanhoe named Rowena the Queen of Love and Beauty.
In the tournament on the following day, Ivanhoe was pressed hard by three antagonists, but he received unexpected help from a knight in black, whom the spectators had called the Black Sluggard because of his previous inactivity. Ivanhoe, because of his earlier triumphs during the day, was named champion of the tournament once more. In order to receive the gift from Lady Rowena, Ivanhoe had to remove his helmet. When he did so, he was recognized. He received the chaplet, his prize, kissed the hand of Lady Rowena, and then fainted from loss of blood. Isaac of York and his daughter, Rebecca, were sitting nearby, and Rebecca suggested to her father that they nurse Ivanhoe until he was well. Isaac and his daughter started for their home with the wounded knight carried in a horse litter. On the way, they joined the train of Cedric the Saxon, who was still ignorant of the Disinherited Knight's identity.
Before the travelers had gone far, however, they were set upon and captured by a party led by three Norman knights, Bois-Guilbert, Maurice de Bracy, and Reginald Front de Boeuf. They were imprisoned in Front de Boeuf's castle of Torquilstone. De Bracy had designs upon Lady Rowena because she was an heiress of royal lineage. The Templar desired to possess Rebecca. Front de Boeuf hoped to extort a large sum of money from the aged Jew. Cedric was held for ransom. The wounded knight was put into the charge of an ancient hag named Ulrica.
Isaac and his daughter were placed in separate rooms. Bois-Guilbert went to Rebecca in her tower prison and asked her to adopt Christianity so that they might be married; but the plot of the Norman nobles with regard to their prisoners was thwarted by an assault on the castle by Richard the Lion-Hearted, The Black Sluggard of the tournament at Ashby, in company with Robin Hood and his outlaws. Ulrica aided the besiegers by starting a fire within the castle walls. Robin Hood and his men took the prisoners to the forest along with the Norman nobles. In the confusion, however, Bois-Guilbert escaped with Rebecca, and Isaac made preparation to ransom her from the Templar. De Bracy was set free, and he hurried to inform Prince John that he had seen and talked with Richard. John plotted to make Richard his prisoner.
Isaac went to the establishment of the Knights Templar and begged to see Bois-Guilbert. Lucas de Beaumanoir, the grand master of the Templars, ordered Isaac admitted to his presence. Isaac was frightened when the grand master asked him his business with the Templar. When he told his story, the grand master learned of Bois-Guil-bert's seizure of Rebecca. It was suggested that Bois-Guilbert was under a spell cast by Rebecca. Condemned as a witch, she was sentenced to be burned at the stake. In desperation she demanded, as was her right, a champion to defend her against the charge. Lucas de Beaumanoir agreed and named Bois-Guilbert champion of the Temple.
The day arrived for Rebecca's execution. A pile of wood had been laid around the stake. Seated in a black chair. Rebecca awaited the arrival of her defender. Three times the heralds called upon her champion to appear. At the third call, a strange knight rode into the lists and announced himself as Rebecca's champion. When Bois-Guilbert realized that the stranger was Ivanhoe, he at first refused combat because Ivanhoe's wounds were not completely healed. Nevertheless, the grand master gave orders for the contest to begin. As everyone expected, the tired horse of Ivanhoe and its exhausted rider went down at the first blow, so that Ivanhoe's lance merely touched the shield of the Templar. Then to the astonishment of all, Bois-Guilbert reeled in his saddle and fell to the ground. Ivanhoe arose from where he had fallen and drew his sword. Placing his foot on the breast of the fallen knight, he called upon Bois-Guilbert to yield himself or die on the spot. There was no answer from Bois-Guilbert; he was dead, a victim of the violence of his own passions. The grand master declared that Rebecca was acquitted of the charge against her.
At that moment, the Black Knight appeared, followed by a band of knights and men-at-arms. It was King Richard, who had come to arrest Rebecca's accusers on a charge of treason. The grand master saw the flag of the Temple hauled down and the royal standard raised in its place.
King Richard had returned in secret to reclaim his throne. Robin Hood became his true follower. Athelstane let go his claims to Lady Rowena's hand so that she and Ivanhoe could be married. Reconciled at last with his son, Cedric the Saxon gave his consent, and Richard himself graced their wedding. Isaac and Rebecca left England for Granada, hoping to find in that foreign land greater happiness than could ever be theirs in England.

 

Critical Evaluation

For more than a hundred and fifty years, Ivanhoe has held its charm in the popular mind as the epitome of chivalric novels. It has among its characters two of the most popular of English heroes, Richard the Lion-Hearted and Robin Hood, and tells a story of chivalric romance. It has sufficient action and color to appeal to a great number of people. Although Ivanhoe may not be Sir Walter Scott's greatest novel, it is without doubt his most popular.
Scott himself wrote that he left the Scottish scenes of his previous novels and turned to the Middle Ages in Ivanhoe because he feared the reading public was growing weary of the repetition of Scottish themes in his books. Since he was fascinated with history all of his life, it was logical that Scott should turn to the past for subject matter. Many faults have been found with the historical facts of the book; Robin Hood, if he lived at all, belonged to a later century than that represented in the novel, and by the time of Richard I, the distinction between Saxons and Normans had faded. Nevertheless, the thrilling story, the drama and action, still grip the reader, whatever liberties Scott took with history.
Scott's four great chivalric novels all possess similar structures in that they all focus on a moment of crisis between two great individuals, a moment that determines the survival of one of the opposed pair. In Ivanhoe, the symbolic contrast is between Richard the Lion-Hearted and his brother John. The struggle between these two helps to raise one of the principal questions of the novel: the decadence of chivalry. For generations of juvenile readers, Ivanhoe represented the glory of chivalric adventure, but Scott actually entertained serious doubts about the chivalric tradition. At several strategic points in Ivanhoe, passages occur that unequivocally damn the reckless inhumanity of romantic chivalry.
The novel is divided into three parts, each reaching its climax in a great military spectacle. The first part ends with the Ashby tournament, the second with the liberation from the castle of Front de Boeuf, and the third with the trial by combat to acquit Rebecca. The beginning chapters draw together all of the character groups for the tournament, Ivanhoe being present only as the mysterious palmer. The problem of seating at the tournament provides a sketch of the cultural animosities that divided the world of the novel.
Richard is the moral and political center of the book, and, therefore, the proper object of Ivanhoe's fidelity. The captive king does not appear until he fights the mysterious Black Knight during the second day of the tournament. He saves Ivanhoe and then disappears until the scene of his midnight feast with Friar Tuck. The reader's impression of him is of a fun-loving, heroic fighter. The Friar thinks of him as a man of "prudence and of counsel." Richard possesses a native humanity and a love of life, as well as the heroic chivalric qualities. He is always ready to act as a protector of others.
John, by contrast, is an ineffectual ruler whose own followers despise him. His forces quickly disintegrate, and his followers abandon him for their own selfish ends. He is a petulant, stupid man, incapable of inspiring loyalty. It is inevitable that the historical climax of the novel should be the confrontation between Richard and John. The chivalric code has become completely corrupt in the England left to John's care. Both the narrator and the characters make clear that chivalry is no more than a mixture of "heroic folly and dangerous imprudence."
Rebecca speaks against chivalry, asking during the bloody siege of the castle if possession by a "demon of vainglory" brings "sufficient rewards for the sacrifice of every kindly affection, for a life spent miserably that yet may make others miserable?" (Rebecca is antichivalric, yet she is the most romantic character in the book, suggesting the traditional chivalric attitudes toward women.) The narrator speaks most sharply of the chivalric code at the end of the tournament:

This ended the memorable field of Ashby-de-la-Zouche, one of the most gallantly contested tournaments of that age; for although only four knights, including one who was smothered by the heat of his armor, had died upon the field, yet upwards of thirty were desperately wounded, four or five of whom never recovered. Several more were disabled for life; and those who escaped best carried the marks of the conflict to the grave with them. Hence it is always mentioned in the old records as the 'gentle and joyous passage of arms at Ashby.'

An argument has been made that Scott's historical novels, such as Ivanhoe, are inferior to his earlier novels based on his direct, personal knowledge of the Scottish customs, characters, and land. Even in the historical novels, however, Scott's characters are colorful, full of vitality, and realized with amazing verisimilitude. Scott's knowledge of the past about which he was writing was so deep that he could draw upon it at will to clothe out his fictions. He did not find it necessary to research a novel such as Ivanhoe in order to write it; the historical lore was already part of him. Years before, at the time when he was beginning the Waverley series, he had written a study about chivalry. His prolific writing did not seem to exhaust his resources.
Scott was one of the most prolific writers in the history of British fiction; only Trollope could stand up against his record. Scott's novels were published anonymously, although their authorship came to be an open secret. Scott's friends found it difficult to believe that he was the author of the novels, for he lived the life of a county magistrate and landowner, spending hours daily on these occupations as well as entertaining lavishly and writing poetry and nonfiction works. His secret was that he would rise early and finish novel-writing before breakfast. In time, his compulsive working injured his health, and while he was writing Ivanhoe, he was tortured by a cramp of the stomach and suffered such pain that he could not physically hold the pen but was forced to dictate much of the story.
Like many great novels, Ivanhoe betrays a complexity of attitude on the part of the author. Although much of the book makes clear Scott's severe view of the code of chivalry, it also reveals Scott's attraction to the Romantic traditions of the period. Through the characters of Rebecca and Rowena, Ivanhoe and Richard, Scott dramatized his ambivalent feelings about the chivalric period. The tension created through these mixed feelings, coupled with the dramatic (if historically inaccurate) story and the vast accumulation of detail as to costume and social customs and historical anecdotes, produced a work of enduring value.

 

 

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