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How serious are we supposed to take the narrator's criticism of Rowena because she's being rude to her would-be rapist? Whether this is sarcastic or not is critical to reading the novel, for me.
It's almost indubitibly sarcastic. Sir Walter Scott was many things, but none of them left him without a deep knowledge of the Medieval literature Ivanhoe is based on. Basically, it's supposed to signify how crass and repulsive de Bracy is, how he thinks that he's The Business who is never in the wrong. Or it could be Scott simply borrowing another ancient trope, namely where the damsel in distress turns her captor to her side with kindness, in which case the narrator's crticism is of the 'Catch more flies with honey than vinegar' vein. Or it could be serious, but I don't think it is.
Good point. I'm now almost sure it was sarcastic, ever since reading The Castle Spectre (1790-something) by Matthew Lewis. My friend claims Sir Walter Scott was "a disciple of Matthew Lewis," and Lewis' heroine Angela's reponse to her would-be rapist reminded me a lot of Rowena's. I could easily believe that Scott and Lewis both twisted the "damsel in distress turns her captor to her side with kindness" on its head and that I'm not imagining the sarcastic nature of the narrator's criticism of Rowena, which must have been there to please the censors. The Castle Spectre does the same thing, only much more comedically.
I think the whole scene is supposed to be funny. I mean, de Bracy is pretty much Laughably Evil, showing up "with all the foppery of the times", "luxuriant hair", and ridiculous, gay shoes. No, really.note "We have already noticed the extravagant fashion of the shoes at this period, and the points of Maurice de Bracy's might have challenged the prize of extravagance with the gayest, being turned up and twisted like the horns of a ram." And Affably Evil. He's totally cool with nefariously abducting a fair maiden, but freaks out over Rowena's comically overwrought crying.note "..but this damsel hath wept enough to extinguish a beacon-light. Never was such wringing of hands and such overflowing of eyes, since the days of St Niobe, of whom Prior Aymer told us. A water-fiend hath possessed the fair Saxon."