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Ivanhoe

Sir Walter Scott

Chapters 41-44

Chapters 37-40

Analytical Overview

Summary

Ivanhoe and Gurth approach Richard and his men in the forest; Richard tells Ivanhoe that all the men now know his identity. Ivanhoe criticizes the king for embarking on silly adventures when the nation desperately needs him, but Richard replies that he cannot yet reveal himself to the nation; he is waiting for his allies to raise a formidable force. The companions feast at Robin Hood's camp--for Locksley is now openly declared to be Robin Hood--and then hurry to Coningsburgh Castle for Athelstane's funeral.

To the shock of all present, Athelstane himself appears at the castle, saying that he was only comatose, and not dead, after de Bois-Guilbert's blow. He relates the story of his escape from his own coffin and urges Cedric to grant Rowena to Ivanhoe, saying that he himself is unworthy of her. But as Athelstane tries to join Rowena's hand with Ivanhoe's, the whole assemblage is shocked to see that Ivanhoe and Richard have disappeared.

At Templestowe, a large crowd has gathered for Rebecca's trial-by-combat. De Bois-Guilbert has, against his will, been made the champion of the Templars, so that he will have to fight against Rebecca's champion--if a champion for Rebecca even appears. Friar Tuck and Alan-a-Dale argue about the stories now surrounding Athelstane--he was buried, he rose from the grave--as the crowd waits breathlessly to see what will happen.

At the last possible moment, as de Bois-Guilbert paces his horse impatiently, Ivanhoe charges onto the scene to defend Rebecca. He attacks de Bois-Guilbert, who is forced to defend himself even though if he wins, Rebecca will be killed. Ivanhoe is so exhausted from his hard ride that he falls from his horse at the very first pass. But de Bois-Guilbert tumbles to the ground as well. He is dead, having been killed by the intensity of his own conflicting passions. Ivanhoe wins a curious victory, and Rebecca is saved.

Ivanhoe and Rowena are married at last. Rebecca visits Rowena to congratulate her and to thank her for Ivanhoe's role in saving her life. She and her father are leaving England forever; they plan to resettle in Granada. She does not visit Ivanhoe, who, Scott says, does not think of her more often than Rowena would find acceptable. Over the years to come, Ivanhoe distinguishes himself in the service of King Richard, but his career is cut short by the early death of the king in battle near Limoges, after which perish all the projects Richard had undertaken in his lifetime.

Commentary

To readers raised on conventional hero stories, the conclusion of Ivanhoe is very peculiar indeed. The beginning of the scene of Rebecca's trial-by-combat builds tension in a very familiar way, as the crowd waits to see whether a hero will arrive to save her, and de Bois-Guilbert begins to despair. At last, a heroic knight charges onto the scene to rescue Rebecca. This is where things become bizarre: When the combat begins, the hero is so tired from hurrying to the scene that he actually loses the fight, only to find himself suddenly victorious when his enemy spontaneously dies. This conclusion may seem unsatisfying to a reader today, and it certainly does not fit the pattern of most medieval stories otherwise similar to Ivanhoe. In fact, it is fairly safe to say that the conclusion of Ivanhoe would not have been possible in any period other than the Romantic era; as it often seems throughout the story, Ivanhoe is more a product of the time during which it was written (1819) than the time during which it is set (1194).

Scott was tangentially involved in the Romantic school of writing that flourished in England during the early part of the nineteenth century, a school that emphasized transcendent passion as the most compelling human motivation. To Romantic-era readers, the scene of de Bois-Guilbert falling dead from his own conflicting inner passions (love of Rebecca, hatred of Ivanhoe, a desire to save his own life but also to save Rebecca's) may have seemed very affecting; in any case, it confirms the view that, apart from Rebecca, Brian de Bois-Guilbert is by far the most nuanced character in Ivanhoe. No other character can be said to experience any development during the course of the story, but de Bois-Guilbert goes from being a stock villain to being an object of at least some sympathy because of his admirable love of Rebecca. After his death, the rest of the story is inevitable: Ivanhoe marries Rowena, despite no compelling development of their romance throughout the book, and Rebecca is forced to withdraw.

The other bizarre occurrence in this section is the reappearance of Athelstane, alive and well after having escaped from his own coffin. It is impossible to fathom why Scott would have chosen to include this passage in his novel, except perhaps that the recounting of the scene adds some broad comedy to the last few chapters of the book, and he may have needed Athelstane alive in order to persuade Cedric to bless the wedding of Ivanhoe and Rowena. In any case, Athelstane represents another one of Scott's historical blunders. Cedric wants Athelstane to marry Rowena because of his high birth. He is supposedly descended from Edward the Confessor, the Saxon king of England who reigned shortly before the Norman Conquest in 1066. But in 1194, there were no known surviving descendents of Edward the Confessor; Athelstane is merely a comical figure Scott conveniently imbues with a pedigree he could not possibly have had.

Ivanhoe's failure to triumph convincingly in the climax of the novel that bears his name underscores the fact that Ivanhoe's importance to the book stems more from what he represents than from what he actually does. Ivanhoe, in contrast to Cedric, represents the model of a Saxon who can participate in, respect, and be rewarded by Norman society; he is not degraded by the Normans, but rather wins glory, favor, and privilege from the Norman king. He is not a servant of the Normans, but neither is he their enemy. As the tensions between the Saxons and the Normans play out throughout the novel, Ivanhoe is the only character who exists in both worlds; it is clear that Scott sees him as the future of England, and that fact--far more than his actual deeds in the book--places his name on the title page. After all, Ivanhoe is presented as the hero of a book in which he is inactive with an injury from Chapter 13 to Chapter 41, a span of more than 300 pages. And yet, because of his position as a Saxon fully and successfully acclimated to the Norman world, he is still the most important figure in the book.

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