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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ivanhoe, Rebecca and Rowena: Worst. Threesome. Ever.


I dug into this hefty classic before and after my marathon immersion in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It was an interesting juxtaposition because, of course, both are epic adventure novels with castles, dungeons and heroes up the wazoo. But how much better our boy wizard is than the flat, uninspired Ivanhoe, who makes the idiotic choice of ditching our (and Walter Scott's) favorite, the noble Jewess Rebecca, for the insipid-poorly-drawn Rowena. Ultimately, Rebecca is the heart of the novel and its saving grace--and her amazing portrayal redeems Thackeray from the anti-semitic caricature he does of Rebecca's father, Isaac of York-- who works the whole O my daughter! O my ducats! thing ad nauseum, much like his inspiration, Shylock.

But I must confess, dear readers, despite my cynicism and modern-day skepticalisticness, when Rebecca was on trial for sorcery and Ivanhoe rushed into defend her my very heart was palpitating, my skin was clammy with excitement, my mind was full of anticipation and misgivings. And when he at last galloped in on horseback, I shouted with joy. Walter Scott sure knew how to spin a good yarn, and the yarn-spinners are the soothers of society.

Anyway, perhaps my favorite discovery after reading Ivanhoe was William M. Thackeray's brilliant parody/sequel, Rebecca and Rowena. It's both respectful and also merciless in its depiction of Rowena as a cold, domineering wife, Ivanhoe as an alcoholic, henpecked husband who dreams of his old adventures, and gentle mockery of all the resurrections, plot twists and inconsistencies in the original.

Check it out here.

My favorite excerpt:

In a word, she was always flinging Rebecca into Ivanhoe's teeth. There was not a day in his life but that unhappy warrior was made to remember that a Hebrew damsel had been in love with him, and that a Christian lady of fashion could never forgive the insult. For instance, if Gurth, the swineherd, who was now promoted to be a gamekeeper and verderer, brought the account of a famous wild-boar in the wood, and proposed a hunt, Rowena would say, "Do, Sir Wilfrid, persecute these poor pigs: you know your friends the Jews can't abide them! "

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