Thursday, February 14, 2013

Character Thursday: Cedric the Saxon

Today I'm trying out, for the first time, Fanda at Fanda Classiclit's meme Character Thursday.

Lovely button, eh?
I'm excited to try out this meme on Ivanhoe, which I'm now over halfway through. Characters, for me, are always the most important part of classics, and some characters I could just go on about all day.

[**spoiler alert** I personally knew nothing about Ivanhoe before starting and I enjoy going into classics that way, so if you're like me, I would recommend you don't read further! It would be too hard to do a character analysis without talking about critical events in the story.]

The character that I find most intriguing so far, actually, is Cedric, Ivanhoe's father. Cedric is a father and is also trying to take care of his extremely beautiful ward, and naturally, his son and his ward fall in love (figures, right?). But rather than congratulating his two favorite people on a splendid match, Cedric is not pleased. First of all, his son Wilfred (aka Ivanhoe) displayed some serious "filial disobedience" by going off to the court of Richard the Lion-hearted, which Cedric didn't like (for reasons which will, we can only hope, become clearer at some point). But what's more, Cedric already had plans for his ward, Rowena, to marry one of Cedric's best pals, Athelstane, in order to get together some of the good tribes, or lands, or...something. (Still fuzzy on that, but that's probably due to my more basic understanding of the feudal system of the time period.) So anyway, Cedric banished his only son, because, you know, filial disobedience and all that.

Confused yet? I know I am, but let's carry on to the good part.

Anyway, what I like so far about Cedric's character is his inner conflict over how to deal with Ivanhoe. In the beginning, Cedric appears to be stony and heartless on this point. I mean, he banished his only son. But when Ivanhoe gets wounded at a tournament, Cedric's first reaction is to have his own people take care of his son. He still loves Ivanhoe, as any father would--but then, when Cedric learns that Ivanhoe has other people to take care of him, Cedric is immediately back to being angry at Ivanhoe.

Cedric reminds me of the dads in sports movies, who want their kids to play basketball/football/baseball/whatever, get angry over some thing their kids did, and then learn that what matters most is giving love and support to the child no matter what. It's the classic case of "Dad thinks he knows what's best for Son, but discovers that only Son can make Son's decisions, and Dad needs to just give support and encouragement for Son to be the best that Son can be." (It could work with daughters too--Cedric does show this tendency toward Rowena as well, who is like a daughter to him.) Well, Cedric hasn't quite come to The Golden Realization yet, but I suspect that he'll have it before the book is out.

One of Cedric's other most notable characteristics is his Saxon pride. It was pretty obvious from the get-go that the Saxons are The Good Guys (they have the most manly language, after all! --We won't go into the gender implications of that; I mean, it was written in the 19th century...) and the Normans are The Evil Oppressors. So all the Saxons are full to the brim with pride in their heritage, Cedric the most of all.

In a way, this is quite admirable. I'm sure that's how Sir Walter Scott meant it, anyhow. But I find it interesting that pride in and defense of the Saxon culture seems to be the most redeeming trait in this book (even more so than being a good Christian, which is a close second). Honestly, Cedric doesn't seem very smart to me, or even a very nice person. Like I said, he banished his only son, and like every other God-fearing Saxon in the book (including Ivanhoe), he despises Jews and Normans. And he's pretty cruel to his loyal serf, Gurth, too. For some reason, he's obsessed with Athelstane (who's a moron), even to the point of sacrificing his own life for Athelstane's.

But he's a brave Saxon, so it's all okay!

I'm starting to see a lot more in this book than I did when I first started. I often wonder what Scott sees in all this; what he's trying to say. Is he trying to paint Cedric as a hero? In some ways he seems to be, but in other ways Cedric's failings come through rather loudly. I feel like Cedric may be Scott's means for a critique of the time period, of the "noble Saxons." Maybe rather than romanticizing the past, he's actually trying to stop people from romanticizing it by showing them that while the Saxons had admirable qualities, they also had important weaknesses that society has overcome (supposedly). Maybe Scott is actually romanticizing his own time period, the 19th century.


  1. A good analysis! I haven't read Ivanhoe yet, but from your analysis, I don't quite like Cedric, he seems to me a selfish and proud man.

    It'll be interesting if you'd write also about Ivanhoe after you finish it... ;)

    1. Thank you! After I wrote this, I read a few more chapters, in which Cedric actually started to be maybe I did him an injustice? Ha ha, I hope you read the book someday and don't take my word for it! And I probably will write about Ivanhoe himself as well. :) Thanks for the great meme!