Since the period of this novel is much earlier than most of Scott's "Waverley" novels, and set in England rather than Scotland, some exploration of the actual history of England after the Norman Conquest would be helpful. Especial attention could be paid to the social and political situation, in order, for one thing, to judge the value of the claim that, by the close of the twelfth century, the animus between Normans and Saxons, upon which much of the plot depends, was in fact still severe. Also, a review of the Crusades and King Richard's part in them (and his imprisonment on his way home from the Holy Land) could be enlightening.
1. Which of the two events that are customarily viewed as the chief occurrences in the novel, the tourney at Ashby and the siege of Torquilstone, is related in the more exciting and realistic fashion?
2. Does the trial and the combat sparked by its result, involving the condemnation of Rebecca, stand up as an equally important and well-told passage?
3. Is it a clever device by the author to have Rebecca relate the siege of Torquilstone to Ivanhoe, who is lying wounded, instead of the author describing the occurrence directly to the reader?
4. Apart from the social, religious, and political impossibility of the event, should Ivanhoe have married Rebecca instead of Rowena, as a number of readers have claimed? Does Rebecca's appeal seem strong enough for such an outcome, if it were historically feasible?
5. Does the final scene, between Rowena and Rebecca, in which the former asks her new friend to stay and change her faith ("and I will be a sister to you"), seem appropriate as the best way to close the novel? Is Rebecca's continued resolution to leave with her father and remain in her faith valid and credible, given the generosity of Rowena's offer and what one knows of Rebecca's tribulations and character?
6. Which of the Norman characters (excepting Richard, of course) appears to be the least objectionable, the most deserving of at least a grudging admiration for courage and chivalry? Do any of them deserve this respect?
7. Is Scott's treatment of the knightly orders sufficiently objective, or does he seem to derogate them excessively? Does the characterization of Lucas de Beaumanoir, grand master of the Templar order, cause this group of "soldiers" to be unworthy of any regard— indeed, to be condemned outright?
8. Does King Richard's previous and current behavior deserve the condemnation leveled at him by Ivanhoe and, indeed, by historians? Is he too devoted to martial enterprises and adventure, when he should be undertaking responsible governance of his kingdom? Since Richard does offer an explanation for his actions in Chapter 41 (of the one-volume editions), can the reader excuse his "dereliction of duty," or at least understand it sympathetically?
9. Do the occasional, and sometimes lengthy, poetic insertions (usually in the epigraphs that introduce each chapter) distract one from the text? Would Sir Walter have been wise to omit these passages, in the interest of a more lively pace for the story?
Fred B. McEwen