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Ivanhoe

Sir Walter Scott

Chapters 23-27

Chapters 18-22

Chapters 28-31

Summary

While Isaac is being threatened with torture, Rowena is imprisoned elsewhere in Torquilstone. De Bracy demands her hand in marriage, saying that if she does not consent, he will kill both Cedric and her beloved Ivanhoe. Rowena, who did not know that Ivanhoe was also De Bracy's prisoner, begins to weep. De Bracy is troubled to find that he is moved by her tears; he awkwardly attempts to comfort her, arguing with himself as he does. Suddenly, the bugle call sounds through the castle, and De Bracy storms out of the room.

In still another prison in the castle, Rebecca is tossed in with a wretched Saxon crone named Ulrica. Brian de Bois-Guilbert tells her that she now belongs to him, and moves to take her; she threatens to leap from the high castle turret if he does not withdraw. Impressed, he attempts to soothe her; she says that she will be his friend "but with this space between." Then the bugle blows, and de Bois-Guilbert also hurries from the room.

The bugle that has interrupted each of these scenes heralds the arrival of a letter, written by Locksley and the Black Knight but bearing the signatures of Wamba and Gurth, declaring the intention of the party outside the castle to free the prisoner, either by siege or by combat. Front-de-Boeuf sends a missive to the besiegers asking that they send a priest to hear the last confessions of the prisoners--his plan is to then send the priest for reinforcements, for there are 200 yeomen now besieging the castle. Wamba, dressed as a priest, sneaks into the castle and changes clothes with Cedric.

Now disguised as a priest, Cedric wanders through the castle halls, hoping that no one will ask him to speak any Latin. He meets Rebecca, who has been tending to the wounded Ivanhoe, and Ulrica, who tells him about her life. After the Normans took the castle from her Saxon forebears, she became their consort to save her own life. Now that she is old and ugly, she is kicked and reviled. Cedric approaches Front-de-Boeuf, who gives him a message for his ally Philip Malvoisin; he also gives him a gold coin for his trouble. Enraged, Cedric hurls the coin at Front-de-Boeuf and stomps out of the castle. When the Norman knights realize what has happened, they brace for the outlaw band's attack.

Commentary

We have seen that the villains of Ivanhoe are, by and large, fairly static characters, entirely evil and with no redeeming qualities. This is certainly true of John, Fitzurse, Front-de-Boeuf, and most of the Templars in the later chapters of the novel. However, in this section, both de Bois-Guilbert and de Bracy experience strangely humanizing moments while trying to pressure women into submitting to them. Rowena's tears move de Bracy to a strange moment of sympathy and uncertainty, while Rebecca's threat to leap of the parapet if de Bois-Guilbert tries to rape her moves him to a kind of amazed admiration. In the case of de Bracy, the moment is temporary, and he soon resumes his customary villainishness, but in the case of de Bois-Guilbert, the change seems to be permanent--in any case, his feelings for Rebecca quickly deepen into a passionate love. He certainly does not become a hero--after the battle at Torquilstone, he kidnaps Rebecca--but he experiences a kind of complication and does his best to help Rebecca after the Templars place her on trial.

The disturbing character of Ulrica, the Saxon crone who has spent her life as a courtesan to her Norman overlords, emerges in this section as a metaphor for the ugliness and injustice of the relations between Saxons and Normans as a whole. In this way, she becomes a powerful contrast with the character of Ivanhoe, who will, as we shall see, become a metaphor for the reconciliation of the tensions between the two peoples by the end of the novel. However, Ulrica also embodies another historical error on the part of Scott. According to the Victorian historian E. A. Freeman, who attacked the historical basis of Ivanhoe savagely in an 1876 publication, Ulrica was not a name given to Englishwomen in the twelfth century. Neither, for that matter, was Rowena--Scott simply interpolated the names because they seemed to fit the characters and the mood of the story. Because some of his other novels are extraordinary for their historical veracity, Scott is often judged harshly for his mistakes in Ivanhoe. But it is important to remember that Ivanhoe is, first and foremost, a historical romance: Above all else, it is an adventure story, not a painstaking attempt to recreate another era with perfect accuracy. The most important criterion by which the novel should be judged is whether or not it succeeds as a compelling adventure story, and generations of readers have agreed overwhelmingly that it does.

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