November Books 8) Ivanhoe, by Walter Scott

I had tried Ivanhoe several years ago and bounced off it; persuaded me to give it another go, and I must say that with a paper copy (rather than reading off the Blackberry as I had previously tried) it was much easier to speed-read through the cod-medieval prose and get the sense of story. This edition also has a very useful introduction pointing out that the imagined distance from the Norman Conquest to the setting of Scott’s novel is about the same as the real interval between 1688-91 and the writing of the novel. The conflict between Saxons and Normans, which feels rather anachronistic for 1192, then actually stands as a metaphor for national reconciliation between the ex-Jacobites and the Whigs. This helped me get through the book. I found it all pretty heavy-handed, though, including the treatment of the Jews both by the other characters and by the author. Occasionally the cod-medievalisms made me wonder if it was all supposed to be a joke – “It is as true as the Gospel of Saint Nicodemus” struck me as a phrase capable of more than one interpretation – but alas in the end I think the author was taking himself seriously and expected us to take it seriously too, Saxon heirs, Richard the Lion-Heart, Robin of Locksley, Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all. And I can’t quite manage it.

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