Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
Ivanhoe is a rather sharp-edged story of intolerance, both personal and social, in the Middle Ages. Although it is one of the earliest historical novels, written by Sir Walter Scott, the originator of the genre, history is but vaguely represented in the work, except in the personages of such authentic characters as Richard the Lion-Hearted and his brother, Prince John.
At the time portrayed in the novel, Crusaders are trickling back to England from Jerusalem. The England of the story is racked with dissension. The ruling nobility, including the crusading King Richard, are Norman conquerors. A small number of the defeated Saxon nobility remains to foment the overthrow of the Normans. Ivanhoe’s father, Cedric, is the leader of this faction. Cedric has disinherited Ivanhoe for being in love with Rowena, the last of the line of Saxon royalty and Cedric’s ward. In addition to the tension between the ruling and subservient classes and the familial strife between Cedric and Ivanhoe, the novel contains political intrigue between Richard and Prince John, who wants to usurp the throne, and racial and religious tension in the personages of Isaac of York and his daughter, Rebecca, who are Jewish and therefore despised by Saxon and Norman alike.
The several story lines of the novel play themselves out by only occasionally intersecting. The dominant tale is the account of racial prejudice against Rebecca. After Ivanhoe is kind to her father,...
(The entire section is 483 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Don River. Tributary of the Humber River, which drains much of north-central England into the North Sea, described by Scott as soft and gentle. The town of Doncaster is on the upper Don River. The territory south of the Humber and east of the Don is a beautiful valley that includes on the bank of the Don south of Doncaster the Saxon castle of Conisbrough, which Scott uses as the backdrop for much of his story.
*Pennine Hills. Mountain range that forms the backbone of England and marks the western boundary for the events in Ivanhoe. Warncliffe Park, mentioned by Scott, is the area around Warncliffe Crags, which is part of the Pennine Hill Range. The crags are above Stockbridge and northwest of Sheffield.
*Ashby-de-la-Zouche. Town in Leicestershire between Birmingham and Nottingham, where Ivanhoe enters the tournament upon his return from the Crusades. The area is used to create many of the action scenes of Scott’s novel.
Rotherwood. Fictitious castle home of Ivanhoe’s father, Cedric. It is probably based on the town of Rotherham, which is mentioned in chapter 20, in South Yorkshire near Sheffield. Because of this connection, Rotherwood figures often in the story.
*Sherwood Forest. Dense forest in northern England’s Nottinghamshire which is the scene of action involving Locksley—who becomes Robin Hood—and the location of Torquilstone, the imaginary castle of Front-de-Boeuf. The castle setting may have been the town of Harthill about nine miles southeast of Rotherham. The area contains the ruins of Middleham Castle, which may have been the model for Torquilstone. It is also the location of the Hermit’s cell where King Edward spends the night on his hunting trip.
*Templestowe. Castlelike structure known as a preceptory—a religious and educational house used in medieval times by the Knights Templer, who figure prominently in Ivanhoe. It is to Templestowe that Bois-Guibert flees from Torquilstone with his captive, Rebecca, and to which Isaac goes to negotiate his daughter’s release. Templestowe is about a day’s journey from Torquilstone.
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Hayden, John O., ed. Scott: The Critical Heritage. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1970. A collection of reviews of many of Scott’s novels, including Ivanhoe. Also includes an extended essay on Scott by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and anonymous letters written to Scott about the novel.
Hillhouse, James T. The Waverley Novels and Their Critics. New York: Octagon Books, 1970. A history of the critical reception Scott received. The first part offers early reviews from The Edinburgh, The Quarterly, Blackwood’s, and other periodicals, and the second part provides critical interpretations from the...
(The entire section is 183 words.)