Romanticism was a highly complex literary and artistic movement that began roughly in the mid-eighteenth century and reached its full flowering in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Literary historians usually distinguish between the Romantic movement or Romanticism and a more generic ‘‘romanticism’’ that can be found in later literature, including that written in the twenty-first century.
Defining Romanticism has been a challenge for generations of scholars, for the artists whose work embodied Romantic themes and ideals— most of them poets, including William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Shelley, and John Keats—were a diverse group of writers. Despite the difficulties, certain common characteristics can be identified, and a number of these commonalities can be found in Scott’s work, including Ivanhoe, whose full title at the time of publication was Ivanhoe: A Romance.
One characteristic of Romanticism that scholars . . . Read More
Relations between England and Scotland had long been tumultuous when Scott was born in 1771. Historically, England had dominated Scotland, regarding it as a possession rather than a partner. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, disputes about religion erupted, and many of these disputes continued into the eighteenth century. There was fear in England that Scotland would lead efforts to restore the Stuart line to the British throne. The Stuarts (sometimes spelled Stewarts) were the Scottish royal house that produced nine Scottish kings from 1371 to 1603. That year, James VI of Scotland laid claim to the English throne as James I after his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I, died childless. Over the next century, England and Scotland were ruled by a total of six Stuart monarchs. In 1701, however, the Act of Settlement established the German Hanoverian line on the British throne, and in 1707 the two countries united in the Act of Union, extinguishing the line of Stuart . . . Read More
One of the chief symbols in Ivanhoe is Front-deBoeuf’s castle at Torquilstone. The name of the castle derives from the word torque, which comes from the Latin word torquere, meaning ‘‘twist.’’ This word is also the origin of the word torture. Torquilstone symbolizes some of the major themes of the novel. It is a place of corruption and lawlessness, a prison that symbolizes the oppression of Saxon culture by the Normans. It was the site of ancient evils, where Front-deBoeuf murdered his father and, before that, Front-de-Boeuf’s father murdered a Saxon noble and his sons. At the time of the novel, it is where Front-de-Boeuf imprisons the Saxons and threatens to torture Isaac, and where de Bracy tries to woo Rowena and de Bois-Guilbert attempts to subdue Rebecca. At the climax of the Torquilstone sequence, which takes up roughly the middle third of the novel, it seems appropriate that the castle is destroyed by . . . Read More
Ivanhoe is set against the backdrop of the clash between two cultures, the Saxons and the Normans. Saxon is a catch-all term to refer to several Germanic tribes that migrated to the British Isles beginning in about the fifth century; often the term ‘‘Anglo-Saxons’’ is used. At the time of the novel, the Saxons were regarded as native Englanders. In contrast, the Normans were a French people, originating in the northern French province of Normandy. The name is derived from ‘‘Northmen,’’ referring to the Normans’ Scandinavian origins. The two cultures had considerable contact, but matters changed in 1066 when Duke William II of Normandy invaded Britain, subdued the Saxon nobles, and established the Normans as the ruling class of England. This event is generally referred to as the Norman Conquest.
The Saxon nobles, whose land was taken away and whose influence was reduced, resented the Normans. Each . . . Read More
Athelstane is a Saxon nobleman and a descendant of the last Saxon king of England. Cedric hopes to marry Rowena to Athelstane as a way of continuing the line of Saxon nobles. While Athelstane, generally a sluggish man more interested in drink and food, wants to marry Rowena, she has no interest in him.
Aymer is the prior of the monastery at Jorvaulx. He is one of de Bois-Guilbert’s associates. He is more interested in the finer things in life than in religion.
Beaumanoir, a sternly moral man, is the grand master of the Knights Templar and one of the characters who orchestrates the trial of Rebecca on charges of practicing witchcraft.
See Richard I
Brian de Bois-Guilbert
De Bois-Guilbert is a Norman knight and the primary villain . . . Read More
The opening chapters of Ivanhoe establish the novel’s historical and social context. King Richard I has been absent fighting in the Crusades, a series of wars fought between Muslims and European Christians over the holy city of Jerusalem. On his way home from the Crusades, Richard has been captured and imprisoned by the Austrians. In his absence, tension festers between two opposing political groups, the Saxons and the Normans. The native Saxon nobles held power and influence in England until the year 1066, when England was invaded by the Normans, a French people, under the leadership of William the Conqueror. The Normans have used Richard’s absence to conquer many of the Saxon nobles and reduce them to serfdom. In general, the Normans and the Saxons despise each other. The chief Saxon character in the novel, Cedric, opposed the decision of his son, Ivanhoe, to fight in the Crusades on behalf of Richard I—a Norman king—so . . . Read More
Despite its obvious theme of ecology, which has generated much of the book’s popularity and the ornate gothic surface that attracts so many of its readers, the main theme of Dune is religion, and especially the interaction of religion with human culture as a whole. The presentation of religion in the book is quite remarkable. Given the feudal character of the social structure of the novel, with its emperors, dukes, and barons, one might expect to see noble households with a chaplain and a church hierarchy that parallels the political hierarchy, but there is nothing of the kind. No noble character ever attends a religious service. The existence of a chapel or church building is never hinted at. The book’s aristocratic characters seem for the most part to live in a secular world in which religion plays no role. The only exception to this pattern is the common use of a scripture, the Orange Catholic Bible. Gurney Halleck is thought eccentric because of the readiness with which he . . . Read More
In the 1930s, the Polish American engineer Alfred Korzybski developed the discipline of general semantics (not to be confused with ordinary semantics, the study of the meaning of words) and founded a school for instruction in his system. General semantics holds that language is a metaphorical abstraction that actually separates the human mind from objects of thought. He wished to use mathematics as a model for a new way of thinking that would suspend ordinary semantic categories (words) and allow the mind to deal directly with reality. For instance, a rose is not the word rose. Korzybski believed that a tremendous advance in understanding could be achieved through comprehending the thing itself rather than by using the symbolic value of its name as an intermediary. Herbert was deeply influenced by Korzybski’s thought. In fact he ghostwrote a syndicated newspaper column on the subject for U.S. Senator S. I. Hayakawa. . . . Read More
Science fiction and the closely allied genre of fantasy (Dune is often said to have elements of both) is difficult to define. A simple definition based on elements common in the genre, such as space travel, stories set in the future, and so on, or even a more sophisticated attempt at definition such as a ‘literature of ideas,’ is not sufficient, since many books contain those elements but are not science fiction. Works by authors such as Doris Lessing, Anthony Burgess, or Margaret Atwood meet those simple criteria and yet they have never been considered science fiction by critics, and the authors themselves more or less vociferously deny that their works are science fiction. A historical definition of the genre is more useful (leaving aside the works of authors such as H. G. Wells or Jules Verne, which are best seen as precursors of the purely genre development). Science fiction developed in the 1920s in the United States . . . Read More
The main theme of Dune is the disastrous effect that messianic religious belief can have on human society. Herbert’s original inspiration was the messianic cult of personality that was attached to Adolf Hitler, who exploited the power it gave him to start World War II and the Holocaust. Herbert treats this through fiction in the messianic role Paul plays for the Fremen and the eugenics program of the Bene Gesserit, as well as in the anti-eugenic disaster unleashed across the galaxy by the Fremen.
Technology and Human Development
The fantastic advance of technology has always been a common theme of science fiction. There are certainly some instances of superscience in Dune, but Herbert’s treatment of such marvels stands far apart from most science fiction. Many of the technological ideas used in Dune in 1965 have already been surpassed by modern science. For instance, the . . . Read More