Prince John is plotting to seize the throne from his brother, Richard the Lion-Hearted, and Robin Hood and his merry band are making fools out of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Wilfred, knight of Ivanhoe, the son of Cedric the Saxon, is in love with his father’s ward, Rowena. Cedric, however, wishes her to marry Athelstane, a descendant of the royal Saxon line, whom Cedric hopes will restore the Saxon succession. With a colorful cast of chivalric knights and fair ladies, this action-filled novel comes complete with feats of derring-do, the pageantry of a tournament, and a great flame-engulfed castle—all of which makes it the most enthralling of Scott’s creations. This novel is part of Brilliance Audio's extensive Classic Collection, bringing you timeless masterpieces that you and your family are sure to love.
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Ivanhoe is, at first glance, a story of knights, chivalry, romance, and not a small amount of violence, set in the Middle Ages, in the time of Richard the Lion Heart. There are good suspenseful moments, some excellent scenes, and the writing is a pleasure. But the character of Isaac of York is intriguing, and that of his daughter, Rebecca, though less so - what was Walter Scott thinking? These characters make the book more than just a story of Knights in shining (or not so shining) armor. On one hand, Scott shows an understanding of Jewish history, and the reasons that Jews in the Middle Ages (in certain countries) were so commonly usurers - they were not permitted to do anything else, they served a purpose for hypocritical Christians, who, on one had viewed lending at interest as prohibited, but on the other hand had no compunctions about borrowing. The nobility and monarchs would borrow, to fund wars, but often to fund extravagances. Scott understood this, and there are enough quotations to show that he did. But he still depicted Isaac of York as a less likeable person than necessary - he could have shown that other people loathed him because of their bigotry, without making him so avaricious. What is worse, is that the narrator, otherwise quite good, and excellent for many of the characters and narration, made Isaac sound even whinier than necessary, as if he thought that Isaac had to come across of worthy of disdain. Not so his daughter, Rebecca, who came across as noble, kind, and wise. In fact, the discussion between her and Ivanhoe in the cell, while they were both captives and she was treating his wounds, about the glories of knighthood and their futility is one of the most beautiful and moving scenes in the book, and, in the same chapter, Rebecca reporting the battle scene from the window while Ivanhoe lay in bed is excellent - a forbear of Martha Gelhorn in action. Mirah, in Daniel Deronda is a character similar to Rebecca in many ways, and I wonder whether George Eliot was inspired by her. (Mirah, too, is depicted as the antidote to the negative images of other Jews, and, of course, beautiful, with dark hair and eyes - stereotypes, too.). But some of Rebecca's gentle ways, decorum, and cultured behavior must have been learned from her father, so it seems wrong to me to depict him as such a negative stereotype. I was intrigued enough by this to read someone's master's thesis from the University of Amsterdam "The Jewish Question in Ivanhoe; Isaac and Rebecca of York in pre-World War Two Britain", which gave some background and insight into Scott's depiction of these characters, and in which some ideas that Isaac is not depicted merely as a stereotype are presented. (The master's thesis itself struck me as weak for a master's thesis, and rather strikes me as at the level of a term paper, but never mind, it was useful for the purpose.). But I think that some of the positive judgement is too generous. I think that Scott might himself still had remnants of prejudice - it is hard to be rid of this when it has been part of a culture for centuries - and he might also have felt that his audience was not ready for a total shift. After all, much literature later than Scott's still depicts these negative stereotypes of Jews (and other persecuted or minority people who are victims of bigotry). So, I enjoyed the story very much, and recommend it as good listening, but as in much literature that reflects certain social contexts and attitudes, a certain amount of thought should be employed, which, of course, is a good thing.