Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sir Walter Scott and Historical Romance

From Regina Jeffers:
Structurally, Ivanhoe is divided into three parts: (1) Ivanhoe’s return to England in disguise and the tournament at Ashby constitutes the first section. [Disguise, at a point of reference, is a major motif in the novel, as not only Ivanhoe, but also Wamba, Richard, Cedric, and Locksley assume disguises.]; (2) Sir Maurice de Bracy kidnaps Cedric’s party. De Bracy lusts after Rowena. Richard and Locksley free the prisoners.; (3) The Templars and Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert take Rebecca captive. The trial-by-combat decides whether Rebecca will live or die. 
One of the major criticisms of Scott’s Ivanhoe is the freedom with which Scott employed historical fact. Also, Scott’s depiction of Jews is considered stereotypical at best. Yet, we must recall this is a “romance,” not a historical novel. As I write Regency romance, I am told often by those who write historicals that my novels are meant to please, not to instruct. Needless to say, I would beg to differ. I spend more hours than I would care to count in research, but my purpose here is not to debate whether there is room for imagination in the mist of research. What I wish to point out is how Scott’s opinion of King Richard goes against the idealized image of the King, especially that found in 19th Century England. Rosemary Mitchell, an Associate Principal Lecturer in History and Reader in Victorian Studies at Leeds Trinity University College, UK, says, “This is the message of Ivanhoe, with its equivocal chivalry: you can learn from the past, you can even recreate it, but ultimately you cannot and perhaps should not try to return to it.” [Mitchell, Rosemary, ‘Glory, Maiden, Glory': The Uncomfortable Chivalry of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Open Letters Monthly: An Arts and Literature Review]

“The resolution of the novel has never been universally popular: the very earliest readers found fault with Scott’s decision to marry the hero to the blonde Anglo-Saxon princess, Rowena, rather than the beguiling brunette Rebecca, daughter of Isaac the Jew. Scott’s decision was not taken lightly: the marriage of Ivanhoe, the friend of the Norman King Richard and the flower of chivalry, was intended to symbolise the reconciliation of the Anglo-Saxons with their French conquerors and the foundation of an inclusive English nation. But not that inclusive: Scott, no mean medieval scholar and no rosy-eyed observer of his own time, does not pretend that Rebecca and her fellow Jews were acceptable to the new English people – or even to their nineteenth-century descendants. At the close of the novel, Rebecca and her father depart to Spain and we hear no more of them." (Read more.)

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