Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

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.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Don River

*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

*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

*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.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The story takes place in 1194, the year of King Richard I's (also known as Richard the Lion-Hearted) return to England from the Third...

(The entire section is 250 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Since characterization holds such an important place in this book, it might be well to note the three standard methods of characterization as...

(The entire section is 1062 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Ivanhoe is notable for the symmetry of its structure, the vivid incidents and settings, and the essential humanity of many of its...

(The entire section is 382 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Two areas of concern may be found in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe: the matter of chivalry and its effect on social and cultural behavior, and...

(The entire section is 1416 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Since the period of this novel is much earlier than most of Scott's "Waverley" novels, and set in England rather than Scotland, some...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. What caused the conflict between the Normans and the Saxons?

2. Discuss the importance of each of the three major settings of...

(The entire section is 170 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. The theme of Ivanhoe seems to have two elements: the evils of prejudice and the compromise between heroic ideals and reality....

(The entire section is 220 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Ivanhoeis one of the thirty-two Waverley novels, so named for Scott's anonymously authored first novel, Waverley. Some...

(The entire section is 248 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Cockshut, A. O. J. The Achievement of Walter Scott. New York: New York University Press, 1969. An excellent exploration of Scott's use...

(The entire section is 189 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

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.)