Ivanhoe (English Library)

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9780140431438: Ivanhoe (English Library)

In the virulently male world of Ivanhoe, Jews are reviled and persecuted; women are at best political pawns and at worst the victims of rape or misogyny; the weak are subject to the relentless oppression of the master race, the Norman rulers of England; and violence is endemic. And yet there are suggestions of a better world: in the sisterhood of Jewess and Saxon princess, in the redistributive justice of Robin Hood and his band of outlaws, and in the determined attempt of the hero to effect political reconciliation between Saxons and Normans. Although set in 1194, after the return of Richard I of England from the Third Crusade, and although first published in 1820, Ivanhoe has a political modernity which makes it the most remarkable of all Scott's novels. It is also a superb and exciting tale, which culminates in the show trial of Rebecca the Jewess on a charge of sorcery. The text is based on the first edition and is emended by readings from Scott's manuscript and proof-corrections which were lost in the original process of preparing the novel for publication.

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Review:

Ivanhoe was the first of Scott's novels to be located wholly in England, and the first to take place in the middle ages. But it is far from being the fantastic, medievalist romance associated (in the critical imagination) with a visionary Britain that never was. This is a serious novel, the first in English to deal carefully with race. And at the same time, it is an incredibly exciting read for contemporary readers. Ivanhoe was the first of Scott's novels to be located wholly in England, and the first to take place in the middle ages. But it is far from being the fantastic, medievalist romance associated (in the critical imagination) with a visionary Britain that never was. This is a serious novel, the first in English to deal carefully with race. And at the same time, it is an incredibly exciting read for contemporary readers.

From the Back Cover:

'The love of battle is the food upon which we live – the dust of the melee is the breath of our nostrils! we live not – we wish not to live – longer than while we are victorious and renowned. Such…are the laws of chivalry to which we are sworn, and to which we offer all that we hold dear.'

Set in the twelfth century, during the reign of Richard the Lionheart, 'Ivanhoe' tells of the love of Wilfred of Ivanhoe for the Lady Rowena, his father Cedric's ward. Cedric, who is dedicated to the liberation of the Saxon people from Norman oppression and to the revival of the Saxon royal line, intends Rowena – a descendant of King Alfred – for the oafish Athelstane, and he banishes his son. Ivanhoe joins King Richard on his crusade in the Holy Land, and eventually the two men return secretly to England – Ivanhoe to regain his inheritance and the land of Rowena, Richard to secure his kingdom from his scheming brother John who has ruled in Richard's absence.

With a gallery of memorable characters, high and low, 'Ivanhoe' is a powerful and exciting evocation of a medieval world of jousting, baronial rivalry, siege warfare and trial by combat, and makes no attempt to gloss over the violence and brutality that lay behind the chivalric ideals.

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