Study Guide

Ivanhoe Family

By Sir Walter Scott

Family

"Palestine!" repeated the Saxon – "Palestine! How my ears are turned to the tales which dissolute crusaders or hypocritical pilgrims bring from that fatal land! I too might ask – I too might inquire – I too might listen with a beating heart to fables which the wily strollers devise to cheat us into hospitality; but no – the son who has disobeyed me is no longer mine; nor will I concern myself more for his fate than for that of the most worthless among the millions that ever shaped the cross on their shoulder, rushed into excess and blood-guiltiness, and called it an accomplishment of the will of God." (3.28)

This scene is the first hint we get of Cedric's terrible relationship with his son, Wilfred of Ivanhoe. Cedric has disinherited Ivanhoe because he disobeyed him and went to join King Richard to fight in the Middle East. He still wants to know what's going on with his son, but he refuses to admit that Ivanhoe's fate still affects him.

Politically, Cedric represents the extreme pro-Saxon position in the novel. Emotionally, he is a distant and often unreasonable man. Does his harsh attitude toward his son influence your understanding of or sympathy for his politics? How do his politics affect his compassion?

"We shall cheer [Rowena's] sorrows," said Prince John, "and amend her blood, by wedding her to a Norman. She seems a minor, and must therefore be at our royal disposal in marriage. – How sayst thou, De Bracy? What thinkst thou of gaining fair lands and livings, by wedding a Saxon, after the fashion of the followers of the Conqueror?"

"If the lands are to my liking, my lord," answered De Bracy, "it will be hard to displease me with a bride; and deeply will I hold myself bound to your highness for a good deed, which will fulfil all promises made in favour of your servant and vassal." (13.13-14)

Ivanhoe is a romance, which means it focuses on people's feelings. Bois-Guilbert considers betraying his beloved Knights Templar for the love of Rebecca. And Ivanhoe returns to Rotherwood and reconciles with his father out of love for Rowena. But one of the obstacles to all of this lovey-dovey stuff is an alternative vision of marriage: the political marriage. Here De Bracy wants to marry Rowena because she has lots of land, and Cedric hopes Rowena will marry Athelstane so they can have royal Saxon children. These convenient partnerships have nothing to do with feelings and everything to do with the money and social position of the potential bride and groom. While the romance in Ivanhoe makes a good story, it's much more historically accurate to think of medieval marriage as a political transaction between families, especially among the nobility.

The Saxon had been under very intense and agonizing apprehensions concerning his son; for Nature had asserted her rights, in spite of the patriotic stoicism which laboured to disown her. But no sooner was he informed that Ivanhoe was in careful, and probably in friendly hands, than the paternal anxiety which had been excited by the dubiety of his fate, gave way anew to the feeling of injured pride and resentment, at what he termed Wilfred's filial disobedience.

"Let him wander his way," said he – "let those leech his wounds for whose sake he encountered them. He is fitter to do the juggling tricks of the Norman chivalry than to maintain the fame and honour of his English ancestry with the glaive and brown-bill, the good old weapons of his country."

"If to maintain the honour of ancestry," said Rowena, who was present, "it is sufficient to be wise in council and brave in execution – to be boldest among the bold, and gentlest among the gentle, I know no voice, save his father's --" (18.4-6)

After Ivanhoe's injury and collapse, Cedric freaks out, like any concerned father would. But when Cedric is reassured that Ivanhoe is being well cared for by someone else, he gets all mad again, annoyed that his son has apparently deserted him again, probably for the Normans. Rowena reminds Cedric that Ivanhoe has maintained the "fame and honour of his English ancestry" through his bravery and noble manners. In fact, the pretext for Cedric's resentment of Ivanhoe seems very thin. Yes, he hates the Normans, but come on – his son just defeated five of them right in front of him!

We don't know about you guys, but we feel like Cedric's hatred of Ivanhoe is pretty contrived. It seems like a convenient plot point to keep Ivanhoe in disguise for a while rather than a genuine or believable piece of characterization. How would Ivanhoe be different if Ivanhoe and Cedric were not estranged? What plot points would change or disappear? Would such a change alter the tone of the book?

"I care not!" said the Jew, rendered desperate by paternal affection; "do thy worst. My daughter is my flesh and blood, dearer to me a thousand times than those limbs which thy cruelty threatens. No silver will I give thee, unless I were to pour it molten down thy avaricious throat – no, not a silver penny will I give thee, Nazarene, were it to save thee from the deep damnation thy whole life has merited! Take my life if thou wilt, and say, the Jew, amidst his tortures, knew how to disappoint the Christian." (22.49)

Isaac's character is one of extremes: on the bad side, he is miserly and obsessed with money. On the good side, he is a deeply devoted father. He loves Rebecca dearly and is willing to undergo torture for her sake. These two extremes – his greed and his paternal love – don't seem particularly realistic to us. Would you say that Isaac is a three-dimensional character? Why or why not?

"Thou dost me injustice," said the Templar; "by earth, sea, and sky, thou dost me injustice! I am not naturally that which you have seen me, hard, selfish, and relentless. It was woman that taught me cruelty, and on woman therefore I have exercised it; but not upon such as thou. Hear
me, Rebecca – Never did knight take lance in his hand with a heart more devoted to the lady of his love than Brian de Bois-Guilbert. [...] Yes, my deeds, my danger, my blood, made the name of Adelaide de Montemare known from the court of Castile to that of Byzantium. And how was I requited? – When I returned with my dear-bought honours, purchased by toil and blood, I found her wedded to a Gascon squire, whose name was never heard beyond the limits of his own paltry domain! Truly did I love her, and bitterly did I revenge me of her broken faith! But my vengeance has recoiled on myself. Since that day I have separated myself from life and its ties – My manhood must know no domestic home – must be soothed by no affectionate wife – My age must know no kindly hearth – My grave must be solitary, and no offspring must outlive me, to bear the ancient name of Bois-Guilbert. At the feet of my Superior I have laid down the right of self-action – the privilege of independence. The Templar, a serf in all but the name, can possess neither lands nor goods, and lives, moves, and breathes, but at the will and pleasure of another." (24.52)

Now we know the secret of Bois-Guilbert's broken heart. He loved a woman once, but while he was off fighting in the Crusades and winning glory in her name, she married some small-fry squire. Heartbroken and enraged, Bois-Guilbert swore off women entirely; as a Knight Templar, he cannot marry, have children, or even own his own home. As Rebecca points out, this is a rather self-punishing form of revenge: we can't see how it's going to help him get even with the woman who broke his heart. However, it does give us an indication of how proud Bois-Guilbert is, how serious he is about his honor, and how much he must honestly love Rebecca to be willing to break his oaths and compromise his pride on her behalf. Bois-Guilbert's genuine love for Rebecca saves him from being an almost cartoonish villain. Like De Bracy, he is more complex than he originally appears.

"My lineage, proud Norman," replied Athelstane, "is drawn from a source more pure and ancient than that of a beggarly Frenchman, whose living is won by selling the blood of the thieves whom he assembles under his paltry standard. Kings were my ancestors, strong in war and wise in council, who every day feasted in their hall more hundreds than thou canst number individual followers; whose names have been sung by minstrels, and their laws recorded by Wittenagemotes; whose bones were interred amid the prayers of saints, and over whose tombs minsters have been builded." (27.88)

When Athelstane speaks to Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, he immediately becomes self-important about his family background. Athelstane is proud of descending from a long line of Saxon kings, but he himself is a lazy, vain, and self-indulgent man. Scott repeatedly tells us that Athelstane has inherited his ancestors' bad traits and not their good ones, so his obsession with his own background seems like a criticism of aristocracy. Are there other characters in the book who also think a great deal about their fathers and forefathers? Do these characters think about family in the same way Athelstane does? Are there any more positive examples of aristocratic families in Ivanhoe?

"Nay," said Isaac, releasing his hold, "it grieveth me as much to see the drops of his blood, as if they were so many golden byzants from mine own purse; and I well know, that the lessons of Miriam, daughter of the Rabbi Manasses of Byzantium whose soul is in Paradise, have made thee skilful in the art of healing, and that thou knowest the craft of herbs, and the force of elixirs. Therefore, do as thy mind giveth thee – thou art a good damsel, a blessing, and a crown, and a song of rejoicing unto me and unto my house, and unto the people of my fathers." (28.9)

In this passage, Isaac addresses Rebecca, who has persuaded him to bring Ivanhoe to their house to treat his wounds. Isaac is reluctant at first, but he admits that she's right. He compliments his daughter as "a blessing, and a crown, and a song of rejoicing" for Isaac and their family. What he's saying is nice, but the way he says it is almost ridiculously rigid. Isaac's language often sounds Biblical, loaded with references to the Old Testament and full of "thees," "thous," and "thys" instead of "yous" and "yours." Does this sound like a realistic speech from father to daughter? How would you describe Isaac's relationship with Rebecca? How does it compare to the other father-child relationships in the book?

"The Grand Master thinks otherwise," said Mont-Fitchet; "and, Albert, I will be upright with thee – wizard or not, it were better that this miserable damsel die, than that Brian de Bois-Guilbert should be lost to the Order, or the Order divided by internal dissension. Thou knowest his high rank, his fame in arms – thou knowest the zeal with which many of our brethren regard him – but all this will not avail him with our Grand Master, should he consider Brian as the accomplice, not the victim, of this Jewess. Were the souls of the twelve tribes in her single body, it were better she suffered alone, than that Bois-Guilbert were partner in her destruction." (36.42)

There are a lot of different kinds of loyalty in this book. There's the loyalty between king and subject (King Richard and Ivanhoe), between people of the same faith (Isaac and Rabbi Nathan ben Israel), people of the same nation (Athelstane and Cedric), and family members (Rebecca and Isaac). The Knights Templar are not necessarily connected by blood or national identity, but the oaths they have taken to the Order, and their economic and political investment in making the Knights Templar the strongest organization of warriors in the world, mean they are deeply attached to each other. The Order of the Knights Templar is kind of like an earlier, more violent version of a college fraternity. Their loyalty to their fellow brothers makes them go to great lengths to try to protect Bois-Guilbert, even when he has clearly broken their own laws.

"If I appear," said Bois-Guilbert, "in the fatal lists, thou diest by a slow and cruel death, in pain such as they say is destined to the guilty hereafter. But if I appear not, then am I a degraded and dishonoured knight, accused of witchcraft and of communion with infidels – the illustrious name which has grown yet more so under my wearing, becomes a hissing and a reproach. I lose fame, I lose honour, I lose the prospect of such greatness as scarce emperors attain to – I sacrifice mighty ambition, I destroy schemes built as high as the mountains with which heathens say their heaven was once nearly scaled – and yet, Rebecca," he added, throwing himself at her feet, "this greatness will I sacrifice, this fame will I renounce, this power will I forego, even now when it is half within my grasp, if thou wilt say, Bois-Guilbert, I receive thee for my lover." (39.35)

In a sense, Bois-Guilbert's offer to Rebecca is as romantic as it gets: he promises to give up his whole world so they can escape England together. He'll forsake the name and position he has spent his adult life fighting to build just to be with her. But his crazy, obsessive love mostly comes across as creepy. Rebecca has always been upfront with him about her own feelings: she has no interest in him, and she finds his atheism and ambition distasteful and even a bit scary.

If there's one message Ivanhoe conveys about love, it's that it's unreasonable and sometimes insane. Bois-Guilbert falls hard for Rebecca at first sight, and Rebecca's love for Ivanhoe appears equally groundless. She knows Ivanhoe is prejudiced against Jewish people and that he is in love with Rowena, but she can't seem to help her feelings for him.

"Waldemar Fitzurse!" he said in astonishment; "what could urge one of thy rank and seeming worth to so foul an undertaking?"

"Richard," said the captive Knight, looking up to him, "thou knowest little of mankind, if thou knowest not to what ambition and revenge can lead every child of Adam."

"Revenge?" answered the Black Knight; "I never wronged thee – On me thou hast nought to revenge."

"My daughter, Richard, whose alliance thou didst scorn – was that no injury to a Norman, whose blood is noble as thine own?"

"Thy daughter?" replied the Black Knight; "a proper cause of enmity, and followed up to a bloody issue! (40.96-100)

Family relations influence almost all of the political decisions in this novel. Here Waldemar Fitzurse reveals that he decided to rebel against King Richard and join Prince John because Richard refused to marry Fitzurse's daughter. Similarly, Ivanhoe's loyalty to King Richard takes him to the Crusades, leading him to abandon his father's Saxon-only policies. This mix of the personal and the political makes sense in a world where just a few lords control all of the power of a kingdom. In this feudal system, one lord's hatred of another is enough to lead to war. There is also a historical precedent for this mixture of family life and politics: Kings Richard and John both led armed rebellions against their father, Henry II. The story goes that King John assassinated his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, to ensure his own position on the English throne. Talk about a dysfunctional family.

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