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.)