Mingling Identities In Ivanhoe
The quality or condition of being the same in substance, composition,
nature, properties, or in particular qualities under consideration; absolute
or essential sameness; ones. (Oxford English Dictionary)
the search for a single English national identity is complicated by the
mingling identities of Scott’s characters in the novel. Characters
attempt to identify themselves as purely Saxon or purely Norman, but by
the end of the novel, it is obvious that there is no real pure form of
either race. Instead, we see characters with corrupt morals, double identities,
forced religious and racial conversions, violent chivalry and the persistent
Jewish influence of Rebecca and her father upon the Christians. For these
reasons, it is idealistic to read the marriage of Rowena and Ivanhoe as
a “pledge of future peace and harmony betwixt two races” (515).
However, the marriage should at least be seen as a beginning of the inclusion
of outsiders which helps to further define what it means to be English.
First, it is important to look at the identity of Cedric the Saxon. At
the beginning of the novel, he gives the Prior Aymer of Jorvaulx and Knight
Brian de Bois-Guilbert a place to stay while they are making their way
to the Ashby tournament. He does this not out of a kind gesture but of
obligation to the ‘hospitality of Rotherwood’ (Scott 37).
But when welcoming the two Normans, Cedric takes only three steps towards
them and says, “my vow binds me to advance no farther upon this
floor of my fathers, even to receive such guests as you and the valiant
knight of the Holy Temple.” He continues, “Let me also pray
that you will excuse my speaking to you in my native language, and that
you will reply in the same if your knowledge of it permits; if not I sufficiently
understand Norman to follow your meaning” (Scott 41). For Cedric,
speaking his native language gives him a sense of authority over the French
speaking Normans. However, it is interesting that his knowledge of the
Norman customs is in fact what keeps him alive and able to escape the
Norman castle after his capture. He adopts the dress of a Friar and is
actually escorted out of the Norman castle by his enemy, Front-de-Boeuf.
During Cedric’s escape, he is confronted by Ulrica. She too, has
a confusing and controversial identity. Originally she was the Saxon daughter
of Torquil Wolfganger. However, when her father and the rest of her Saxon
blood was killed by Front-de-Boeuf, Ulrica’s Saxon identity disappeared.
She was raped by the Norman Front-de-Boeuf, and kept as his mistress.
She was given the name Ulfried and kept in a dungeon like chamber, like
a slave. She was forced to adopt the Norman language and customs which
she despised, in a sense, making her a false convert (Ragussis 193).
The entire novel is filled with double identities such as the ones just
presented. And to confuse the issue of identity even further, enter in
the hero of the novel, Ivanhoe. Under his father, he was considered a
Saxon but then adopted the Norman life of his King, which was why he was
disowned. He has loved Rowena the Saxon since his childhood, but can’t
deny his attraction and fascination with the mysterious Jewess Rebecca.
Judith Wilt questions how conclusive the marriage between Rowena and Wilfred
really is, when it seems as though Wilfred is arguably hiding some feelings
for Rebecca. She says, Wilfred “Retains both the ‘bonds of
early affection’ for Rowena and the ‘deep impressions’
left by Rebecca, ‘it would be inquiring to ask’ says the narrator,
how much of his national, social, religious, personal and sexual conflict
is reconciled and how much is simply abandoned” (48). It seems as
though his feelings for Rebecca are in fact abandoned for the sole reason
that she is Jewish and in a sense, untouchable. Regardless, he is still
more sympathetic to both Rebecca and her father than any other person
in the novel. But he also seems to have a strange connection to the outlaws,
especially Locksley. They serve as each others doubles throughout the
novel, each winning unexpectedly at the tournament of Ashby and Locksley
adopting the role of the leader when Ivanhoe is recovering from his injuries.
It seems that the integration and mingling in the novel begins and ends
If any person in this novel has a set identity based on her morals and
her religion it would be Rebecca. However, throughout the novel she is
constantly being demanded to convert her Jewish religion to Christianity,
through bribes of returning to her homeland or the threat of death. Each
time, however, Rebecca refuses in order to stay true to her religion.
Rebecca’s destiny serves as a political allegory about Jewish history
in England. While the rest of England attempts to identify themselves
and their race as purely Saxon or purely Norman, Rebecca and her Jewish
father, Isaac, try to hold on to their Jewish beliefs and heritage, refusing
to give into the offers of conversion. Even at the end of the novel when
Rowena offers Rebecca protection if she remains in England, Rebecca responds
by saying, “the people of England are a fierce race, quarrelling
ever with their neighbours or among themselves, and ready to plunge the
sword into the bowels of each other” (516). Notice that Rebecca
does not distinguish between Normans and Saxons here. She includes everyone
by naming them precisely as “the people of England.” This
seems quite appropriate since it was all of England that seemed to exclude
the Jews. However, they did include the Jews in their business when it
was beneficial to them. This almost always occurred when dealing with
Isaac suffered as a Jewish man and as Rebecca’s father. He is victim
of all of the stereotypes, constantly being referred to as “dog
Jew,” “infidel dog,” and “Hound of a Jew.”
These names do not come from just one race, but from both the Saxons and
the Normans. However, Isaac’s priorities are clear throughout the
entire novel. His most import priority is his family, that being his only
daughter. This is a priority that we do not see any other characters possessing.
In fact, like John and Richard, the families seem to be at battle with
each other. Isaac’s second priority is his religion. He believes
strongly in his religion and even when the friar tries to convert Isaac,
Isaac confesses he had no idea what the friar was talking about. The friar
responds by saying “the leopard will not change his spots, and a
Jew he will continue to be” (361).
As Michael Raggusis argues, the conversion of the Jews is actually genocide.
With Rebecca, Bois-Guilbert offers her restoration to her homeland if
she converts and chooses to “embrace our religion,” that of
Christianity. However, he also orders her to ‘yield to his desire,”
implying the threat of rape if she does not agree. She refuses and instead,
retaliates with the threat of suicide. At the same time and in the same
speech, Rebecca in fact questions the religion that Bois-Guilbert refers
to. “Embrace thy religion! And what religion can it be that harbours
such a villain?” (Scott 251). Rebecca is implying that not only
is Bois-Guilbert not a true Christian because of his violent actions,
but that he truly has no understanding of the religion he claims to be
a part of because he chooses to perform the actions he has just displayed.
The second attempt at converting Rebecca takes place at the trial which
she is being changed with witchcraft. The Grand Master says to Rebecca, “Repent. My daughter, confess they witchrafts, turn thee from thine
evil faith, embrace this holy emblem, and all shall yet be well with thee
here and hereafter” (Scott 425). Of course Rebecca refuses and,
again, her fate is death. The third and final attempt at converting Rebecca
happens when she intrudes on Rowena in her private chambers. This is perhaps
a representation of the “power of the return of the repressed,”
as Ragussis argues. Jewish history is imposed on the Norman Saxon marriage
representing the racial and religious question England still could not
answer by the end of the novel. Where do the Jews fit into the English
With the mingling between races, it is hard to give any character a firm
racial identification. And even harder is trying to prove that the marriage
of Rowena and Ivanhoe will bring all of the characters together, each
forgetting the past that they have morally or immorally defended. As Gary
Kelly points out, there are many factors working against the visionary
ideal that is presented (160). First, the ending lacks the voice of the “common people.” Revolutionaries argued however that the nation
was actually “the people.” Perhaps this is Scott’s way
of suggesting the people are actually remaining outsiders while a new
nation is being formed. Secondly, Rebecca and her father still remain
outside and seemingly unassimilated regardless of how worthy and useful
they are to the society. Each character played an important and vital
role in defeating the aristocratic evil, and yet their departure from
England seems to be their only choice. Edgar Johnson thinks this could
represent England’s inability to “behave with Christianity
to its Jew” (745). Thirdly, there is a disturbing and unresolved
acceptance of brutality against women in the novel. Each woman is threatened
with rape, and Ulrica, is in fact raped and made prisoner to Front de
Beouf. Lastly, if King Richard is intended to act as the figure whom will
complete social redemption, we can assume that redemption never happens
because we are told that he goes on yet another crusade and is killed.
Even though Ivanhoe should not be seen as a fairy tale in which everyone
lives happily ever after, it does offer some sense of hope for the future.
Throughout the novel, it seems as though Scott offers an account of the
progress that the English are making. Concerning the leadership of the
English people, Gary Kelly points out that Scott shows that his version
of “social leadership and authority is represented by King Richard’s
presiding over this representative national purification, reconciliation
of Norman/Saxon values and the reintegration of the outlaw (Locksley)”
(160). Richard makes the integration of others easier considering he seems
to be in favor of it, therefore his people can favor integration and not
be shunned for it. When the yeoman questions his loyalty to England, Richard
replies, “You can speak to no one, to whom England, and the life
of every Englishman, can be dearer than to me” (212). Also, the
character of Ivanhoe acts as a bridge between the Norman and the Saxon
differences. “He is one of Scott’s mediatorial figures, bridging
the gulf between Saxon and Norman, adopting the chivalric code in its
highest form, aiding the oppressed, becoming the devoted follower of Richard,
fighting for the cross in Palestine, humbling the pride of cynical and
overbearing Bois-Guilbert, and in the end, by wedding Rowena, symbolically
uniting Norman knighthood and the Saxon heritage” (Johnson 742).
So while there is no guarantee at the end of this novel that the Normans
and the Saxons will set aside their differences to form one English identity,
there does seem to be hope and at least more tolerance between the Normans
and the Saxons.
Edgar. Sir Walter Scott: The Great Unknown, Volume 1, Hanish Hamilton
Kelly, Gary. English Fiction of the Romantic Period, 1789-1830. Longman,
Ragussis, Michael. “Writing Nationalist History: England, the Conversion
of the Jews, and
Ivanhoe,” ELH 60 (1993).
Scott, Sir Walter. Ivanhoe. Penguin Popular Classics, 1994.
Wilt, Judith. Secret Leaves: The Novels of Sir Walter Scott. Chicago UP,