Whitney's Reviews > Ivanhoe

Ivanhoe by Walter Scott
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's review
May 18, 2009

really liked it

** spoiler alert ** I think I will have to list "Ivanhoe" among that select book category "Books I Was Pleasantly Surprised By." Don't get me wrong. I expected to like it. I enjoy Scott's poetry ("Lady of the Lake" anyone?). Plus "Ivanhoe" in film version (the one with Olivia Hussey) was one of my favorite films as a kid.

But I wasn't prepared to encounter the slow start of Scott's novel. The only way I got through the first fifty pages was by remembering that many writers during Scott's era took a while "getting started" so to speak. And even at that, I can only call my pace a trudge at best. And then Scott got started.

I discovered that the book didn't really have all that much to do with the title character. Not really. The real hero of the book was Rebecca, the Jewess. A person disregarded because of her gender, viewed with suspicion at best and active hatred as a matter of course because of her race and religion, and nearly murdered because of her profession. Her passive resistance of simply choosing to live in the manner her conscience dictates. She appears much more frequently in the book than Ivanhoe. And she is the most compelling character.

The knight templar (a military priestly order)Brian de Bois-Guilbert conceives a great passion for her and kidnaps her at one point, offering her repeatedly riches, prestige, and then her life (when she is judged a sorceress and condemned to death) if she will only consent to be his paramour. She firmly and with quiet anger refuses. At her trial, her judge tells her if she will give up her faith and convert to Christianity her life will be spared. She replies "I am a maiden, unskilled to dispute for my religion, but I can die for it, if it be God's will." The excellent thing is the poignancy and irony of her situation. The heiararchy of Christian monastic men by the moors of that society, are the most holy, the most elevated. Yet it is a monastic knight who privately proclaims himself an atheist, who has kidnapped her in hopes of an illicit relationship. And it is Rebecca, the Untouchable Jewess of that society, the unnatural healer or sorceress as they call her who just like an early Christian martyr is willing to defend her honor, her family, her life's work, her faith to the death.

Many people are stymied and then angry at the ending. They often say that Scott was so flexible with history in "Ivanhoe" anyway, why couldn't he have allowed Rebecca and Ivanhoe to marry? It seems an irrepairable mistake to many readers and Scott himself struggled to give a good defense for his decision to marry Ivanhoe off to the one-dimensional Rowena.

But you know what? This twist in the novel works for me. I think asking readers to believe that a Christian knight in England during the 13th century would marry a Jewish woman, nevermind a female healer (who was frequently under very real threat of being tried and executed for sorcery), is asking to suspend disbelief just a little too far. At least for me. And frankly, I like the way it ends because... I'm just not sure that Ivanhoe was worthy of her.

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Reading Progress

May 18, 2009 – Shelved
May 18, 2009 –
page 156
July 16, 2009 –
page 305
July 27, 2009 –
page 360
August 27, 2009 –
page 480
Started Reading
September 17, 2009 – Finished Reading

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