‘Classic Friday’: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

26 Jul

Classic Friday

Welcome to Classic Friday with Nisha Moodley, your monthly journey into Classic authors and their Literature!

Nisha MoodleyNisha is a South African writer, blogger, amateur historian, mystery-chaser and former ghost-hunter who, with a completed collection of short-stories under her belt, is currently working on her first full-length novel.


I hope you enjoy this ‘Classic Friday’ entry and I’ll be back next month for some more.


ivanhoe-penguin-classicsTITLE: IVANHOE
AUTHOR: Sir Walter Scott
GENRE: Historical fiction
NO.OF PAGES: 550 (My copy: Penguin Classics)


This novel has been credited for influencing our current perceptions of the Middle Ages. A romantic medieval indulgence, Ivanhoe is also noted for perpetuating the famous Robin Hood legend and giving us the now popular attributes assigned to the famous outlaw. As a result Ivanhoe is probably the single most influential novel in the historical fiction genre.


Brief Synopsis

Set in the 12th century, King Richard the Lionheart returns from the Crusades in the Holy Land but is captured and taken prisoner on his way home. Of his favourite knight, Wilfred of Ivanhoe (who fought by his side), there is no news. Prior to leaving England, Ivanhoe was disowned by his father Cedric the Saxon for pledging allegiance to Richard, a Norman king, and for falling in love with Cedric’s ward, Lady Rowena.

In Richard’s absence his brother Prince John is plotting to take over the English thrown. With the King’s imprisonment, the avaricious John is confident of his plans and makes progress in trying to secure the Crown for himself. But when Ivanhoe returns to England and makes a dramatic reappearance in a jousting tournament hosted by Prince John, the tables start to turn. And when Reginald de Front-Beouf, a Norman nobleman, and his henchmen kidnap Cedric and Rowena for ransom, the enmity between the Saxons and the Normans comes to a head.


Ivanhoe is a story set 600 years before Walter Scott’s time and despite scholars verifying the historical accuracy of certain aspects of the novel, they also agree that the author did exercise poetic licence and the result is a romanticized fictional tale. It’s important to note that Scott himself did explicitly state that Ivanhoe was not meant to be read as a historical treatise but as a work of fiction.

However it would not be a surprise if one had to hear that every cliché about the Middle Ages was borne out of this novel. From beautiful damsels-in-distress to jousting tournaments to comical, witty jesters, it’s all in there. However, saying that, Scott’s portrayal of a medieval jousting tournament was
one of the best scenes in the book. Beautifully descriptive, the difficult prose does not prevent us from imagining exactly what is happening in the tournament.

Gehrts_IvanhoeIn the novel we also encounter numerous colourful characters, the most famous of which (for many reasons) is Locksley, the Lincoln-green clad outlaw, along with his forest-dwelling band of followers. The story might be entitled Ivanhoe but it is the character of the dashing Locksley (or Robin Hood) who
stands out.

The damsels in the story might find themselves in distress much of the time but from a modern, feminist point of view, it’s refreshing to see how they stand their own. Rebecca, the beautiful Jewish healer, in particular, is definitely one of the most memorable characters in the book.

On first impressions, Ivanhoe comes across as a typical romance, possibly an out-dated morality tale that harps on about the codes of chivalry. But thematic references to religion and the Norman-Saxon feuds points to something far more poignant and universal. The apparent racist, and religiously intolerant dialogue between the characters may be unsettling to some readers but the extreme prejudices portrayed in the novel provide some important messages (albeit subtly). Reading between the lines, Scott seems to be hitting out against racial and religious discrimination. One of the most memorable quotes from one of the characters:

‘Will future ages believe that such stupid bigotry ever existed?”

Even though Scott, in the process, perpetuates some awful stereotypes himself it was slightly reassuring to see that he didn’t take any sides, choosing instead to show the mindset and prejudices of each person in relation to each other. The message seems eerily relevant and familiar for a story set so long ago.

Is this book for you? Since Ivanhoe is considered the benchmark of historical fiction, it therefore goes without saying that if you love History then the answer would be an absolute YES! Although I would not recommend you substitute this novel for a reference book, Scott does paint a vivid (some would say romanticized) picture of 12th century England and he does pass off certain passages as if they were a History lesson. But as stated above, Ivanhoe is a fictional story whose beauty lies in Scott’s re-creation of Medieval England.

The language however might prove problematic. Scott’s English prose can be difficult to follow sometimes. You will end up re-reading passages for clarity. It’s not what you would call ‘light-reading’. It does require concentration and variant spellings of common English words needs getting used to. If you’re used to reading old Classic novels however, then I would highly recommend this novel.



About the Author

Walter Scott was born in 1771 in Edinburgh, Scotland. He trained as a lawyer after leaving school but started writing professionally at the age of 25. Scott achieved fame as a poet first before turning to full-length fiction. His first novel Waverly was published anonymously in 1814. Many more novels were to follow, most notably Rob Roy (1817), Ivanhoe and Redgauntlet (1824). In 1820, the same year Ivanhoe was published, he was knighted by King George IV. One of Scotland’s most celebrated writers, since his death in 1832, numerous monuments and plaques have been constructed in honour of Sir Walter Scott, not only in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but across the Atlantic in New York as well.


10 Responses to “‘Classic Friday’: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott”

  1. Nisha July 26, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    Reblogged this on In Verbum Scriptum and commented:
    My book review for Ivanhoe…

  2. nelle July 27, 2013 at 6:30 pm #

    Another wonderful exploration! I read this in high school, which might have been when Scott still lived. 😉

    I cannot resist this:

    • Nisha July 28, 2013 at 8:58 am #

      Ha ha! Thanks for that, Nelle. Talk about poetic licence! He he 😀

      You read it in high school? Wow, I don’t think my teenage brain would have survived this book if it was prescribed to us in high school. :-/

  3. frenzyofflies August 1, 2013 at 8:03 am #

    I lived in Edinburgh for a few years, and I used to walk past the Scott Monument every day. Which doesn’t excuse the fact that I never read the book… A great post Nisha! 🙂

    • Nisha August 21, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

      Me as well, Greg, how can one possibly miss that enormous structure? 😀

  4. luisfazevedo August 4, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    You really convinced me to read this book. Thanks 🙂 Great job!

    • Nisha August 21, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

      Thank you! Hope you enjoy it! 🙂

  5. Martin Shone August 11, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

    I had the novel for years and years and never read it… however my favourite tales of this kind are by a certain author of ours, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle… The White Company and Sir Nigel 🙂 Have you read these?

    • Nisha August 21, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

      Sorry for the late reply Martin, unfortunately no, I haven’t read these. I’m still waiting to read the Challenger series can you believe it. I’m just so behind on everything these days… 😛

      • Martin Shone August 21, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

        I can believe it… I also believe you will enjoy them 🙂

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