Ivanhoe

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American Book Company, 1904 - Ivanhoe, Wilfred of, Sir (Fictitious character) - 551 pages
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Ivanhoe: a romance

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The Modern Library is making a killing on TV/feature film tie-ins to classics. Like its recent incarnations of Gulliver's Travels and Emma, this offers a quality hardcover for little more than a paperback price. Read full review

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Chapter XLIII
“Our scene now returns to the exterior of the castle, or preceptor, of Templestowe, about the hour when the bloody die was to be cast for the life or death of Rebecca. It was a scene
of bustle and life, as if the whole vicinity had poured forth its inhabitants to a village wake or rural feast. But the earnest desire to look on blood and death is not peculiar to those dark ages; though in the gladiatorial exercise of single combat and general tourney, they were habituated to the bloody spectacle of brave men falling by each other’s hands. Even in our own day, when morals are better understood, an execution, a bruising match, a riot, or a meeting of radical reformers, collects, at considerable hazard to themselves, immense crowds of spectators, otherwise little interested, except to see how matters are to be conducted, or whether the heroes of the day are, in the heroic language of insurgent tailors, ‘flints’ or ‘dunghills’.”
There is, odd as it may sound to a modern ear, an edginess to Scott’s writing, like the amused glint in a favorite mean uncles eye, which crops up especially in his observations of human faults. It adds relish to the reading -- to hear someone skewered smoothly is a pleasure, the more so when his target aligns with our own natural bias – and indeed, one of his main targets of this guarded, almost subversive goading is the church:
“The Grand Master [Templar]was a man advanced in age, as was testified by his long grey beard, and the shaggy grey eyebrows, overhanging eyes of which, however, years had been unable to quench the fire. A formidable warrior, his thin and severe features retained the soldier’s fierceness of expression; an ascetic bigot, they were no less marked by the emaciation of abstinence, and the spiritual pride of the self-satisfied devotee.”
What saves these jabs is their honesty, and the sense that here is not a political, or partisan view of the subject, but a simple transcribing of what the teller has found, stripped to essence and delivered. If these evidences swim against the current of popular feeling, or common ideas, it is not swayed by the force of the stream, but remains impartial. So reading Scott is rewarded by these little passages set into the fabric of the novel like gems – but the choice of subject matter and theme is guided by the same clever wisdom. Here is a popular, romantic story about the middle ages of Knights replete with jousting and feasting and chivalry. But the story pivots on the unjust scorn and treatment of gentile for jew. And this is echoed and reinforced by the less virulent but still vigorous animosity between Norman and Saxon, though both Christian.
There is a little history, but mostly anecdotal, or by the wayside. Of more interest is the language encountered which show the sinuous evolution of words from age to age and language to tongue – donjon, for example, by which is meant a stone tower, as we might expect to see on a medieval castle, essentially a turret. Yet when we think of a dungeon, we think stairs going down to the basement, and dark wet depths. I suppose those who spent time in the Tower of London would recognize this iteration. Or consider a partizan, also called a quarter-staff, used for knocking sense into ones opponents.
There are arid stretches where antiquated speeches stretch into two pages when the modern novelist might make use of a comma and a period, and cover the same ground. But these were fewer than I thought they might be, and there were some bits of poetry to begin the chapters which were thick enough with meaning to stand up on their own.
What romance of the middle ages would be complete without – Robin Hood. Yes, here he is, already standing on his own merits, along with Friar Tuck and a band of merry men. There is no shadow of giving to the poor, but rather he is an outlaw; and a political organizer. His band of bowmen hunt the forest the Norman royalty have claimed for themselves, but that the peasant has historical right to. They fight and steal, but only in
 

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Page 147 - but I have vowed that, if ever I take service, it should be with your royal brother King Richard. These twenty nobles I leave to Hubert, who has this day drawn as brave a bow as his grandsire did at Hastings. Had his modesty not refused the trial, he would have hit the wand as well as I.
Page 6 - Seven stood upright; the rest had been dislodged from their places, probably by the zeal of some convert to Christianity, and lay, some prostrate near their former site, and others on the side of the hill. One large stone only had found its way to the bottom, and in stopping the course of a small brook, which glided smoothly round the foot of the eminence, gave, by its opposition, a feeble voice of murmur to the placid and elsewhere silent streamlet.
Page 83 - At this the challenger, with fierce defy, His trumpet sounds; the challenged makes reply: With clangour rings the field, resounds the vaulted sky. Their vizors closed, their lances in the rest, Or at the helmet pointed or the crest, They vanish from the barrier, speed the race, And spurring see decrease the middle space.
Page 318 - Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead ! In peace, there's nothing so becomes a man, As modest stillness, and humility : But when the blast of war...
Page 85 - The sloping galleries were crowded with all that was noble, great, wealthy, and beautiful in the northern and midland parts of England ; and the contrast of the various dresses of these dignified spectators rendered the view as gay as it was rich, while the interior and lower space, filled with the substantial burgesses and yeomen of merry England, formed, in their more plain attire, a dark fringe or border around this circle of brilliant embroidery, relieving and at the same time setting off its...
Page 303 - I see him not," said Rebecca. "Foul craven!" exclaimed Ivanhoe; "does he blench from the helm when the wind blows highest ? " "He blenches not ! he blenches not !
Page 11 - Nay, I can tell you more," said Wamba, in the same tone; " there is old Alderman Ox continues to hold his Saxon epithet, while he is under the charge of serfs and bondsmen such as thou, but becomes Beef, a fiery French gallant, when he arrives before the worshipful jaws that are destined to consume him. Mynheer Calf, too, becomes Monsieur de Veau in the like manner; he is Saxon when he requires tendance, and takes a Norman name, when he becomes matter of enjoyment.
Page 419 - With priest's and warrior's voice between. No portents now our foes amaze, Forsaken Israel wanders lone : Our fathers would not know THY ways, And THOU hast left them to their own. But present still, though now unseen ; When brightly shines the prosperous day, Be thoughts of THEE a cloudy screen To temper the deceitful ray.
Page 6 - ... beeches, hollies, and copsewood of various descriptions, so closely as totally to intercept the level beams of the sinking sun ; in others they receded from each other, forming those long, sweeping vistas, in the intricacy of which the eye delights to lose itself, while imagination considers them as the paths to yet wilder scenes of sylvan solitude.
Page 3 - IN that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster.

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