Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
With sly gravity, interrupted only by private signs to each other, the Norman knights and nobles beheld the ruder demeanour of Athelstane and Cedric at a banquet, to the form and fashion of which they were unaccustomed. And while their manners were thus the subject of sarcastic observation, the untaught Saxons unwittingly transgressed several of the arbitrary rules established for the regulation of society. Now, it is well known, that a man may with more impunity be guilty of an actual breach either of real good breeding or of good morals, than appear ignorant of the most minute point of fashionable etiquette. Thus Cedric, who dried his hands with a towel, instead of suffering the moisture to exhale by waving them gracefully in the air, incurred more ridicule than his companion Athelstane, when he swallowed to his own single share the whole of a large pasty composed of the most exquisite foreign delicacies, and termed at that time a "karum-pie." (14.9)
At formal parties or occasions, we all worry that we will accidentally break some rule of politeness and look like idiots. The great majority of people are nice enough not to get offended when someone breaks a rule they don't share or know about, but these Normans are not nice guys. They are watching the Saxons like hawks, just waiting for them to behave like dolts. And indeed, when Cedric breaks some arbitrary rule of courtesy, they all silently sneer at him (which is both rude and inhospitable).
This feast demonstrates some of the cultural differences between the Normans and the Saxons, who don't behave in the same ways at the dinner table. The Normans assume these differences of custom also reflect class differences – that the Saxons have different manners because they are inferior to the Normans. This assumption that Norman customs are universal and appropriate for all cultures is a sign of their arrogance and self-centeredness.
Hitherto, Rowena had sustained her part in this trying scene with undismayed courage, but it was because she had not considered the danger as serious and imminent. Her disposition was naturally that which physiognomists consider as proper to fair complexions, mild, timid, and gentle; but it had been tempered, and, as it were, hardened, by the circumstances of her education. Accustomed to see the will of all, even of Cedric himself, (sufficiently arbitrary with others,) give way before her wishes, she had acquired that sort of courage and self-confidence which arises from the habitual and constant deference of the circle in which we move. She could scarce conceive the possibility of her will being opposed, far less that of its being treated with total disregard.
Her haughtiness and habit of domination was, therefore, a fictitious character, induced over that which was natural to her, and it deserted her when her eyes were opened to the extent of her own danger, as well as that of her lover and her guardian; and when she found her will, the slightest expression of which was wont to command respect and attention, now placed in opposition to that of a man of a strong, fierce, and determined mind, who possessed the advantage over her, and was resolved to use it, she quailed before him. (23.28-29)
When Rowena faces down De Bracy, she first appears strong, tough, and unafraid. However, Scott tells us that the reason she seems so tough is because she's not used to anyone not immediately obeying her wishes. When De Bracy keeps pushing Rowena, she breaks down almost at once. She has almost no resistance to bad treatment, because she's not used to it.
Compare that attitude to that of Rebecca, who is accustomed to prejudice and harsh words. Because Rebecca doesn't expect people to obey her or treat her well, she's much more resilient when she has to deal with cruelty. In a sense, Rowena's sheltered upbringing has really damaged her. Rowena appears relatively weak during this whole siege at Torquilstone. By contrast, Rebecca is strong enough to face even being burned alive without compromising herself or giving in to her tormentors.
"Tell me in plain terms what numbers there are, or, priest, thy cloak and cord will ill protect thee."
"Alas!" said the supposed friar, "cor meum eructavit, that is to say, I was like to burst with fear! but I conceive they may be – what of yeomen – what of commons, at least five hundred men." (26.10-11)
When Wamba makes his way into Torquilstone disguised as a monk, he has to trick the Norman knights into thinking that he's a real friar. We find this scene interesting because Wamba is a fool, a jester. The other characters in the book frequently comment on Wamba's stupidity (his father's name was Witless, for Pete's sake), but Wamba is smart enough to answer Reginald Front-de-Boeuf's questions. His jokey Latin may be funny to real Latin scholars, but it sounds pretty convincing. So while everyone agrees that Wamba is a fool, it seems to say more about his particular social position as a comedian than about his actual mental ability. For more on the potential social advantages of being a fool, check out "Characters: Wamba."