'He was deaf to the murmurs of conscience, and resolved to satisfy his desires at any price.'
The Monk (1796) is a sensational story of temptation and depravity, a masterpiece of Gothic fiction and the first horror novel in English literature. The respected monk Ambrosio, the Abbot of a Capuchin monastery in Madrid, is overwhelmed with desire for a young girl; once having abandoned his monastic vows he begins a terrible descent into immorality and violence. His appalling fall from grace embraces blasphemy, black magic, torture, rape, and murder, and places his very soul in jeopardy.
Lewis's extraordinary tale drew on folklore, legendary ghost stories, and contemporary dread inspired by the terrors of the French Revolution. Its excesses shocked the reading public and it was condemned as obscene. The novel continues to beguile and shock readers today with its gruesome catalogue of iniquities, while at the same time giving a profound insight into the deep anxieties experienced by British citizens during one of the most turbulent periods in the nation's history.
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About the Author
Nick Groom publishes widely for both academic and popular readerships and his recent books include The Forger's Shadow (2002), The Union Jack (2006), The Gothic: A Very Short Introduction (2012), and an edition of Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto for Oxford World's Classics (2014). His book The Seasons: An Elegy for the Passing Year (2013) was shortlisted for the Katharine Briggs Folklore Award and nominated for BBC Countryfile Book of the Year.
Read an Excerpt
———Lord Angelo is precise;
Stands at a guard with envy; scarce confesses
That his blood flows, or that his appetite
Is more to bread than stone.
Measure for Measure.
Scarcely had the abbey-bell tolled for five minutes, and already was the church of the Capuchins thronged with auditors. Do not encourage the idea, that the crowd was assembled either from motives of piety or thirst of information. But very few were influenced by those reasons; and in a city where superstition reigns with such despotic sway as in Madrid, to seek for true devotion would be a fruitless attempt. The audience now assembled in the Capuchin church was collected by various causes, but all of them were foreign to the ostensible motive. The women came to show themselves, the men to see the women: some were attracted by curiosity to hear an orator so celebrated; some came, because they had no better means of employing their time till the play began; some, from being assured that it would be impossible to find places in the church; and one half of Madrid was brought thither by expecting to meet the other half. The only persons truly anxious to hear the preacher, were a few antiquated devotees, and half a dozen rival orators, determined to find fault with and ridicule the discourse. As to the remainder of the audience, the sermon might have been omitted altogether, certainly without their being disappointed, and very probably without their perceiving the omission.
Whatever was the occasion, it is at least certain, that the Capuchin church had never witnessed a more numerous assembly. Every corner was filled, every seat was occupied. The very statues whichornamented the long aisles were pressed into the service. Boys suspended themselves upon the wings of cherubims; St. Francis and St. Mark bore each a spectator on his shoulders; and St. Agatha found herself under the necessity of carrying double. The consequence was, that, in spite of all their hurry and expedition, our two newcomers, on entering the church, looked round in vain for places.
However, the old woman continued to move forwards. In vain were exclamations of displeasure vented against her from all sides: in vain was she addressed with—“I assure you, Segnora, there are no places here.”—“I beg, Segnora, that you will not crowd me so intolerably!”—“Segnora, you cannot pass this way. Bless me! How can people be so troublesome!”—The old woman was obstinate, and on she went. By dint of perseverance and two brawny arms she made a passage through the crowd, and managed to bustle herself into the very body of the church, at no great distance from the pulpit. Her companion had followed her with timidity and in silence, profiting by the exertions of her conductress.
“Holy Virgin!” exclaimed the old woman in a tone of disappointment, while she threw a glance of enquiry round her; “Holy Virgin! what heat! what a crowd! I wonder what can be the meaning of all this. I believe we must return: there is no such thing as a seat to be had, and nobody seems kind enough to accommodate us with theirs.”
This broad hint attracted the notice of two cavaliers, who occupied stools on the right hand, and were leaning their backs against the seventh column from the pulpit. Both were young, and richly habited. Hearing this appeal to their politeness pronounced in a female voice, they interrupted their conversation to look at the speaker. She had thrown up her veil in order to take a clearer look round the cathedral. Her hair was red, and she squinted. The cavaliers turned round, and renewed their conversation.
“By all means,” replied the old woman’s companion; “by all means, Leonella, let us return home immediately; the heat is excessive, and I am terrified at such a crowd.”
These words were pronounced in a tone of unexampled sweetness. The cavaliers again broke off their discourse, but for this time they were not contented with looking up: both started involuntarily from their seats, and turned themselves towards the speaker.
The voice came from a female, the delicacy and elegance of whose figure inspired the youths with the most lively curiosity to view the face to which it belonged. This satisfaction was denied them. Her features were hidden by a thick veil; but struggling through the crowd had deranged it sufficiently to discover a neck which for symmetry and beauty might have vied with the Medicean Venus. It was of the most dazzling whiteness, and received additional charms from being shaded by the tresses of her long fair hair, which descended in ringlets to her waist. Her figure was rather below than above the middle size: it was light and airy as that of an Hamadryad. Her bosom was carefully veiled. Her dress was white; it was fastened by a blue sash, and just permitted to peep out from under it a little foot of the most delicate proportions. A chaplet of large grains hung upon her arm, and her face was covered with a veil of thick black gauze. Such was the female, to whom the youngest of the cavaliers now offered his seat, while the other thought it necessary to pay the same attention to her companion.
The old lady with many expressions of gratitude, but without much difficulty, accepted the offer, and seated herself: the young one followed her example, but made no other compliment than a simple and graceful reverence. Don Lorenzo (such was the cavalier’s name, whose seat she had accepted) placed himself near her; but first he whispered a few words in his friend’s ear, who immediately took the hint, and endeavoured to draw off the old woman’s attention from her lovely charge.
“You are doubtless lately arrived at Madrid,” said Lorenzo to his fair neighbour; “it is impossible that such charms should have long remained unobserved; and had not this been your first public appearance, the envy of the women and adoration of the men would have rendered you already sufficiently remarkable.”
He paused, in expectation of an answer. As his speech did not absolutely require one, the lady did not open her lips: After a few moments he resumed his discourse:
“Am I wrong in supposing you to be a stranger to Madrid?”
The lady hesitated; and at last, in so low a voice as to be scarcely intelligible, she made shift to answer,—“No, Segnor.”
“Do you intend making a stay of any length?”
“I should esteem myself fortunate, were it in my power to contribute to making your abode agreeable. I am well known at Madrid, and my family has some interest at court. If I can be of any service, you cannot honour or oblige me more than by permitting me to be of use to you.”—“Surely,” said he to himself, “she cannot answer that by a monosyllable; now she must say something to me.”
Lorenzo was deceived, for the lady answered only by a bow.
By this time he had discovered, that his neighbour was not very conversible; but whether her silence proceeded from pride, discretion, timidity, or idiotism, he was still unable to decide.
After a pause of some minutes—“It is certainly from your being a stranger,” said he, “and as yet unacquainted with our customs, that you continue to wear your veil. Permit me to remove it.”
At the same time he advanced his hand towards the gauze: the lady raised hers to prevent him.
“I never unveil in public, Segnor.”
“And where is the harm, I pray you?” interrupted her companion somewhat sharply. “Do not you see, that the other ladies have all laid their veils aside, to do honour no doubt to the holy place in which we are? I have taken off mine already; and surely, if I expose my features to general observation, you have no cause to put yourself in such a wonderful alarm! Blessed Maria! Here is a fuss and a bustle about a chit’s face! Come, come, child! Uncover it! I warrant you that nobody will run away with it from you—”
“Dear aunt, it is not the custom in Murcia—”
“Murcia, indeed! Holy St. Barbara, what does that signify? You are always putting me in mind of that villanous province. If it is the custom in Madrid, that is all that we ought to mind; and therefore I desire you to take off your veil immediately. Obey me this moment, Antonia, for you know that I cannot bear contradiction.”
Her niece was silent, but made no further opposition to Don Lorenzo’s efforts, who, armed with the aunt’s sanction, hastened to remove the gauze. What a seraph’s head presented itself to his admiration! Yet it was rather bewitching than beautiful; it was not so lovely from regularity of features, as from sweetness and sensibility of countenance. The several parts of her face considered separately, many of them were far from handsome; but, when examined together, the whole was adorable. Her skin, though fair, was not entirely without freckles; her eyes were not very large, nor their lashes particularly long. But then her lips were of the most rosy freshness; her fair and undulating hair, confined by a simple ribband, poured itself below her waist in a profusion of ringlets; her neck was full and beautiful in the extreme; her hand and arm were formed with the most perfect symmetry; her mild blue eyes seemed an heaven of sweetness, and the crystal in which they moved sparkled with all the brilliance of diamonds. She appeared to be scarcely fifteen; an arch smile, playing round her mouth, declared her to be possessed of liveliness, which excess of timidity at present repressed. She looked round her with a bashful glance; and whenever her eyes accidentally met Lorenzo’s, she dropped them hastily upon her rosary; her cheek was immediately suffused with blushes, and she began to tell her beads; though her manner evidently showed that she knew not what she was about.
Lorenzo gazed upon her with mingled surprise and admiration; but the aunt thought it necessary to apologize for Antonia’s mauvaise honte.
“ ’Tis a young creature,” said she, “who is totally ignorant of the world. She has been brought up in an old castle in Murcia, with no other society than her mother’s, who, God help her! has no more sense, good soul, than is necessary to carry her soup to her mouth. Yet she is my own sister, both by father and mother.”
“And has so little sense?” said Don Christoval with feigned astonishment. “How very extraordinary!”
“Very true, Segnor. Is it not strange? However, such is the fact; and yet only to see the luck of some people! A young nobleman, of the very first quality, took it into his head that Elvira had some pretensions to beauty.—As to pretensions, in truth she had always enough of them; but as to beauty!—If I had only taken half the pains to set myself off which she did!—But this is neither here nor there. As I was saying, Segnor, a young nobleman fell in love with her, and married her unknown to his father. Their union remained a secret near three years; but at last it came to the ears of the old marquis, who, as you may well suppose, was not much pleased with the intelligence. Away he posted in all haste to Cordova, determined to seize Elvira, and send her away to some place or other, where she would never be heard of more. Holy St. Paul! How he stormed on finding that she had escaped him, had joined her husband, and that they had embarked together for the Indies! He swore at us all, as if the evil spirit had possessed him; he threw my father into prison—as honest a pains-taking shoe-maker as any in Cordova; and when he went away, he had the cruelty to take from us my sister’s little boy, then scarcely two years old, and whom in the abruptness of her flight she had been obliged to leave behind her. I suppose that the poor little wretch met with bitter bad treatment from him, for in a few months after we received intelligence of his death.”
“Why, this was a most terrible old fellow, Segnora!”
“Oh! shocking! and a man so totally devoid of taste! Why, would you believe it, Segnor? when I attempted to pacify him, he cursed me for a witch, and wished that, to punish the count, my sister might become as ugly as myself! Ugly indeed! I like him for that.”
“Ridiculous!” cried Don Christoval. “Doubtless the count would have thought himself fortunate, had he been permitted to exchange the one sister for the other.”
“Oh! Christ! Segnor, you are really too polite. However, I am heartily glad that the condé was of a different way of thinking. A mighty pretty piece of business, to be sure, Elvira has made of it! After broiling and stewing in the Indies for thirteen long years, her husband dies, and she returns to Spain, without an house to hide her head, or money to procure her one! This Antonia was then but an infant, and her only remaining child. She found that her father-in-law had married again, that he was irreconcileable to the condé, and that his second wife had produced him a son, who is reported to be a very fine young man. The old marquis refused to see my sister or her child; but sent her word that, on condition of never hearing any more of her, he would assign her a small pension, and she might live in an old castle which he possessed in Murcia. This had been the favourite habitation of his eldest son; but, since his flight from Spain, the old marquis could not bear the place, but let it fall to ruin and confusion.—My sister accepted the proposal; she retired to Murcia, and has remained there till within the last month.”
“And what brings her now to Madrid?” enquired Don Lorenzo, whom admiration of the young Antonia compelled to take a lively interest in the talkative old woman’s narration.
“Alas! Segnor, her father-in-law being lately dead, the steward of his Murcian estates has refused to pay her pension any longer. With the design of supplicating his son to renew it, she is now come to Madrid; but I doubt that she might have saved herself the trouble. You young noblemen have always enough to do with your money, and are not very often disposed to throw it away upon old women. I advised my sister to send Antonia with her petition; but she would not hear of such a thing. She is so obstinate! Well! she will find herself the worse for not following my counsels: the girl has a good pretty face, and possibly might have done much.”
“Ah, Segnora!” interrupted Don Christoval, counterfeiting a passionate air; “if a pretty face will do the business, why has not your sister recourse to you?”
“Oh! Jesus! my lord, I swear you quite overpower me with your gallantry! But I promise you that I am too well aware of the danger of such expeditions to trust myself in a young nobleman’s power! No, no; I have as yet preserved my reputation without blemish or reproach, and I always knew how to keep the men at a proper distance.”
“Of that, Segnora, I have not the least doubt. But permit me to ask you, Have you then any aversion to matrimony?”
“That is an home question. I cannot but confess, that if an amiable cavalier was to present himself——”
Here she intended to throw a tender and significant look upon Don Christoval; but, as she unluckily happened to squint most abominably, the glance fell directly upon his companion. Lorenzo took the compliment to himself, and answered it by a profound bow.
“May I enquire,” said he, “the name of the marquis?”
“The marquis de las Cisternas.”
“I know him intimately well. He is not at present in Madrid, but is expected here daily. He is one of the best of men; and if the lovely Antonia will permit me to be her advocate with him, I doubt not my being able to make a favourable report of her cause.”
Antonia raised her blue eyes, and silently thanked him for the offer by a smile of inexpressible sweetness. Leonella’s satisfaction was much more loud and audible. Indeed, as her niece was generally silent in her company, she thought it incumbent upon her to talk enough for both: this she managed without difficulty, for she very seldom found herself deficient in words.
“Oh, Segnor!” she cried; “you will lay our whole family under the most signal obligations! I accept your offer with all possible gratitude, and return you a thousand thanks for the generosity of your proposal. Antonia, why do not you speak, child? While the cavalier says all sorts of civil things to you, you sit like a statue, and never utter a syllable of thanks, either bad, good, or indifferent!—”
“My dear aunt, I am very sensible that—”
“Fye, niece! How often have I told you, that you never should interrupt a person who is speaking! When did you ever know me do such a thing? Are these your Murcian manners? Mercy on me! I shall never be able to make this girl any thing like a person of good breeding. But pray, Segnor,” she continued, addressing herself to Don Christoval, “inform me, why such a crowd is assembled to-day in this cathedral.”
“Can you possibly be ignorant, that Ambrosio, abbot of this monastery, pronounces a sermon in this church every Thursday? All Madrid rings with his praises. As yet he has preached but thrice; but all who have heard him are so delighted with his eloquence, that it is as difficult to obtain a place at church, as at the first representation of a new comedy. His fame certainly must have reached your ears?”
“Alas! Segnor, till yesterday I never had the good fortune to see Madrid; and at Cordova we are so little informed of what is passing in the rest of the world, that the name of Ambrosio has never been mentioned in its precincts.”
“You will find it in every one’s mouth at Madrid. He seems to have fascinated the inhabitants; and, not having attended his sermons myself, I am astonished at the enthusiasm which he has excited. The adoration paid him both by young and old, by man and woman, is unexampled. The grandees load him with presents; their wives refuse to have any other confessor; and he is known through all the city by the name of The Man of Holiness.”
“Undoubtedly, Segnor, he is of noble origin?”
“That point still remains undecided. The late superior of the Capuchins found him while yet an infant at the abbey-door. All attempts to discover who had left him there were vain, and the child himself could give no account of his parents. He was educated in the monastery, where he has remained ever since. He early showed a strong inclination for study and retirement; and as soon as he was of a proper age, he pronounced his vows. No one has ever appeared to claim him, or clear up the mystery which conceals his birth; and the monks, who find their account in the favour which is shewn to their establishment from respect to him, have not hesitated to publish, that he is a present to them from the Virgin. In truth, the singular austerity of his life gives some countenance to the report. He is now thirty years old, every hour of which period has been passed in study, total seclusion from the world, and mortification of the flesh. Till these last three weeks, when he was chosen superior of the society to which he belongs, he had never been on the outside of the abbey-walls. Even now he never quits them except on Thursdays, when he delivers a discourse in this cathedral, which all Madrid assembles to hear. His knowledge is said to be the most profound, his eloquence the most persuasive. In the whole course of his life he has never been known to transgress a single rule of his order; the smallest stain is not to be discovered upon his character; and he is reported to be so strict an observer of chastity, that he knows not in what consists the difference of man and woman. The common people therefore esteem him to be a saint.”
“Does that make a saint?” enquired Antonia. “Bless me! then am I one.”
“Holy St. Barbara!” exclaimed Leonella, “what a question! Fye, child, fye! these are not fit subjects for young women to handle. You should not seem to remember that there is such a thing as a man in the world, and you ought to imagine every body to be of the same sex with yourself. I should like to see you give people to understand, that you know that a man has no breasts, and no hips, and no. . . . . . . . . .”
Luckily for Antonia’s ignorance, which her aunt’s lecture would soon have dispelled, an universal murmur through the church announced the preacher’s arrival. Donna Leonella rose from her seat to take a better view of him, and Antonia followed her example.
He was a man of noble port and commanding presence. His stature was lofty, and his features uncommonly handsome. His nose was aquiline, his eyes large, black and sparkling, and his dark brows almost joined together. His complexion was of a deep but clear brown; study and watching had entirely deprived his cheek of colour. Tranquillity reigned upon his smooth unwrinkled forehead; and content, expressed upon every feature, seemed to announce the man equally unacquainted with cares and crimes. He bowed himself with humility to the audience. Still there was a certain severity in his look and manner that inspired universal awe, and few could sustain the glance of his eye, at once fiery and penetrating. Such was Ambrosio, abbot of the Capuchins, and surnamed “The Man of Holiness.”
Antonia, while she gazed upon him eagerly, felt a pleasure fluttering in her bosom which till then had been unknown to her, and for which she in vain endeavoured to account. She waited with impatience till the sermon should begin; and when at length the friar spoke, the sound of his voice seemed to penetrate into her very soul. Though no other of the spectators felt such violent sensations as did the young Antonia, yet every one listened with interest and emotion. They who were insensible to religion’s merits, were still enchanted with Ambrosio’s oratory. All found their attention irresistibly attracted while he spoke, and the most profound silence reigned through the crowded aisles. Even Lorenzo could not resist the charm: he forgot that Antonia was seated near him, and listened to the preacher with undivided attention.
Table of Contents
|Note on the Text||xxxi||(4)|
|A Chronology of Matthew Gregory Lewis||xxxvii|
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide
1)One of the most damning criticisms of The Monk was made by Reverend Thomas Mathias, who called it blasphemous. Because of controversy like this, Lewis excised certain passages for the fourth and fifth editions. Mathias pointed to the passage in the first edition where Antonia reads from an expurgated bible because the original was improper for women. Are there other instances of blasphemy in the text? What critiques of Christianity does Lewis seem to be making? How might the novel be considered anti-Catholic?
2)The main plot, concerning Ambrosio, derives from the story of Santon Barsisa, which appeared in The Guardian in 1713. The secondary plot, of Raymond and Agnes, which seems to be of Lewis’s own creation. What do you believe he intended by telling this multi-faceted tale? Why not let the story of Ambrosio stand alone? How do the two stories run parallel to each other?
3)How does Lewis reconcile religion and superstition? Consider the roles of the Bleeding Nun and the Wandering Jew.
4)What kind of position was Monk Lewis taking with respect to the social and religious establishments of the eighteenth centuries? Might he have been commenting on what may happen when our individual choices are taken away? Consider how this might be applicable to contemporary issues.
5)The Monk was Lewis’s only novel; he was primarily known as a playwright. Look at both the physical and structural architecture in The Monk. How might the novel be considered theatrically structured?
6)Critic Christopher Maclachlan notes that in many ways this novel presents a more positive portrayal of women’s sexuality than does other gothic fiction. Does this arguments hold true for all the female characters? What deeper significance could this proto-feminism have?
7)Consider the shifting tone throughout the novel. How do these nuances affect our reading?
8)Ann Radcliffe was disgusted by The Monk and retaliated with her version of a gothic novel called The Italian, first published in 1797. Radcliffe’s novel ends on a happy note, the lovers reuniting. This provided a stark contrast to the Lewis’s ending with Ambrosio’s demonical torture. Compare these endings. What seems to work better? Keep in mind that these novels were originally known as romance novels.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is, by far, the best book I've ever read. I read it about 7 years ago in college and loved it. I just re-read it and absolutely loved it again! Everyone that I've recommended it to has loved it as well. It is a book to read and keep forever.
This is one of my favorite books. It's a Gothic Romance written by Lewis, who at the time was an 18 yr old member of Parliament. He wrote the book in about 10 weeks. If you like books by Ann Radcliffe and/or Christopher Marlowe's Dr Faustus. You NEED to read this!!
This novel predates everything I have read. I am a sucker for ancient text, or anything written in the 17th century. Lewis' language topples over shakespeare and leaves anne rice in the gutter. I recommend this book for anyone interested in dark subjects, whitchcraft, evil religion, devil incarnate, and all the fervid details that make you quiver.
After adjusting to the writing style, this twisted tale takes off and doesn't seem to slow down even after you've finished reading. A few twists and turns, a level of depravity that can shock even the jaded readers of today, it is a tragedy that such creativity and warped imagination is in such short supply these days. No doubt, The Monk is a prized title in nearly every horror fan's library.
It is a very good book and one of the best ive ever read. It is diffenently a must for anyone who likes horror. I admire Matthew G. Lewis for coming up with the entire tale at such a young age.
Don't be scared off by the book's 18th century publication date: this story is as shocking and titillating as anything in modern lit. The Monk has it all: scandal, conspiracy, murder, villainy, hypocrisy, incest, rape, betrayal, ghosts, demons, corpses, and enough gruesome detail to rival an episode of CSI.The story focuses on the corruption and eventual destruction of Ambrosio, "The Man of Holiness", a Capuchin monk whose outward piety conceals vanity and a lust for power, from which seeds grow spiraling tendrils of evil that eventually destroy him, with a little help from Old Smokey himself. (Lucifer actually makes a juicy cameo appearance at the end ¿ don¿t miss it!).Love how "meaty" the story is: within the main narrative, Lewis embeds digressions and side stories that add to the entertainment and general spookiness of the story. Caught up in the main narrative (in which the Brave Cavalier Lorenzo attempts to woo the Innocent Virgin Antonia; Noble Raymond attempts to rescue his True Love Agnes from the schemes of Villainous Family Members and an Evil Prioress; and the Mad Monk Ambrosio is gradually corrupted), you may be tempted to skip these parts, but don't! Elvira's sad history, the story of Lorenzo¿s brush with bloodthirsty bandits in the forests of Germany, and especially the tale of the Bleeding Nun and the Wandering Jew are fully as diverting as the main narrative. Love, too, how the author incorporates all the stereotypical elements of gothic fiction ¿ mad monks, wicked nuns, brave knights, naïve virgins, scheming family members, crypts, corpses, devils, and sorcery ¿ while still managing to create a story that feels fresh, literate, and well-crafted. Lewis may have picked a dubious genre, but there¿s nothing dubious about his plotting or prose. Indeed, Ambrosio¿s decline is presented in so gradual and logical a fashion, may shock you almost as much as it shocks Ambrosio at the end to realize how far he¿s fallen, and how fast. Finally, love how the book lays the foundation for so much literature that¿s come since. Reading along, you¿ll catch definite whiffs of Bronte, Poe, Hawthorn, Byron, Eco, and Perez-Reverte, among others. Were I a scholar, would love to research how this text provides a bridge between the old-style horror of medieval morality plays and modern lit.Because, beneath the shock and titillation, this is at its core a morality play, in which evildoers are punished and virtue is rewarded. (Except for a few necessarily tragic consequences, because evil can¿t happen without victims, after all). A little spooky, a little melodramatic, a lot entertaining, and good triumphs over evil yet again ¿ what more do you want from a book?
It's hard to believe that this book was published in 1796. I can't even imagine how shocking this book was back then, because it certainly shocked me here in 2008. I bought the book because I was interested in reading The Italian by Ann Radcliffe and figured I should read The Monk first. I never expected to like it, but I loved it. I loved all the supernatural aspects of this book; it was something I wasn't expecting. This book can make you feel so many emotions as you read it: anger, sadness, happiness.There's nothing I love more in a book than a bunch of different characters whose stories intertwine with each other with everything unfolding with each chapter.I can't say anything else except: give it a read; you may be surprised how much you like it.
Having just completed The Name of the Rose I thought I would continue the monastery theme with the Monk. My naive self even thought they would be pretty similar in content. Whereas The Name of the Rose is an excellent and well crafted mystery, The Monk is a creepy and suspenseful horror novel. The novel follows the story of two main sets of characters; the monk, Ambrosio and his love Antonia and Lorenzo and his sister Agnes. The two sets are connected in a variety of ways but for most of the story are kept separate. This is an excellent plot device as it juxtaposes the evil and corruption of Ambrosio and the honour and fidelity of Lorenzo. Ambrosio is the hero of the city. A pious and highly respected monk, he is the model that everyone else looks too. Even heroes, however, can be tempted and Ambrosio gives in to these temptations. Before he knows it he is overcome by passions and moves further and further away from the man Madrid thinks he is. He attention becomes fixed on Antonia, a young virgin in the city and become intent on her corruption. Lorenzo on the other hand has just come to Madrid. He meet Antonia and is determined to make her his bride. Before he can, however, he gets caught up trying to rescue his unfortunate sister from her covenant, in order to reunite her with her husband-to-be. Lorenzo is only working for the good of his sister (and her fiancee) whereas Ambrosio is only working for the destruction of Antonia. It's hard to miss who the good guy and bad guy are supposed to be. The book isn't completely straightforward though! There are some good twists and surprises at the end.The descriptions and dialogue in this novel, though flowery, are powerful and you can relate the settings and understand the motivation of the characters. Lewis' writing is poetic and I often found myself reading for much longer than I intended to. A couple times I found he got a little carried away and took the reader away from the main plot(s). The back-story of Agnes and her fiancee also seemed to go on for longer than necessary.Overall a beautifully written novel with some heroic and very creepy characters. It's a novel that's going to sit with me for awhile and I think will reveal even more on a second reading. The depiction of Ambrosio fall for piety to ruin is truly disturbing and makes one question their own motivations and ability to resist temptation.
By most accounts, this is the beginning of the horror genre, and its heady mix of gothic settings, evil villains, innocent maidens, and horrific actions and circumstances--not to mention some supernatural witchcraft to balance everything out--comes together to make for a page-turning read. It's sometimes difficult to imagine readers journeying through this more than two hundred years ago, since it did a fine job of keeping me up late here in 2009.If Charles Dickens and Stephen King were ever to work together in heaven for a literary child, this might well be what would come up. Fun, dark, strange, and suspenseful---it's recommended.
Published in 1796, according to the introduction this is one of the foundational novels of the Gothic genre and thus horror. Interestingly, Lewis was only 19 years old when he wrote it, the same age as Mary Shelley when she published Frankenstein. The novel involves three intertwined stories: Ambrosio, the monk of the title, and his fall from grace; Don Lorenzo and his attempts to gain the hand of Antonia, and the struggles of Don Raymond and Agnes to overcome the obstacles to their union. The narrative often sounds old fashioned, and the plot is often absurd, yet the novel is engaging--enough to keep my interest through the 300 odd pages The author definitely has issues with the Catholic Church that often took the plot and many characters over the top, and there are misogynist comments at times--yet some strong female characters as well. Filled with ghosts, evil monks and nuns, bandits and pacts with Satan himself--it's also full of wit and verve, shot through with dark humor, lurid, cheesy, but great fun.
This book was simultaneously supremely entertaining and quite disturbing. It's definitely not for the faint of heart- it has quite its share of rape, incest, torture, deals with Satan, murder, etc... The main character is Father Ambrosio, an ultra-pious monk turned raving sex fiend. It also features a couple of gallant, knightly types- Raymond and Lorenzo- and their lady loves, Agnes and Antonia, respectively. There's also the beautiful Matilda, who turns Ambrosio to the Dark Side, so to speak. The story itself focuses on Ambrosio's fall from grace, Don Raymond's attempts to rescue Agnes from crazy murder nuns, and Antonia's various misfortunes, which culminate (SPOILERZ) in her being raped and murdered by her big brother, Ambrosio. Cheers!This book does contain some rather sizable doses of anti-Catholicism and misogyny tossed into the mix, but, you know, times were different back then... Also, some of plot twists seemed a bit contrived even with the context considered, but overall it's a very enjoyable read. The language is a tad old-fashioned, but, even so, it's quite difficult to put down.
What a long way we've come since Walpole! This book was actually scary in parts, and certainly gruesome and disturbing. Also a big shift from the "happily ever after" of most early Gothic novels.
Published two years after Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, The Monk is still very much a gothic novel but it's also a very different style of gothic novel compared to Radcliffe's Udolpho.Whilst Radcliffe's novel focuses on creating a sense of terror in its readers (defined by Radcliffe as something that 'expands the soul, and awakens the facilities to a high degree of life'), The Monk seems intent on creating a sense of horror instead (something which 'contracts, freezes, and nearly annihilates them' according to Radcliffe). Where Radcliffe inspires terror by leaving things up to the reader's imagination, Lewis inspires horror by describing things in all their gory detail.This, amongst other things, makes Lewis' book a much more graphic and shocking read and it wasn't really a surprise to find in the introduction that Lewis had to remove all mentions of sexual activity, seductions, murder attempts and descriptions of unclothed female bodies as well as provocative words like 'lust' in later editions of the book.Perhaps because Lewis spells things out more for his readers, this felt like a less demanding read than The Mysteries of Udolpho; it was much easier to get into and moved a lot faster. Having said that, I think my personal preference is for Radcliffe's style of gothic writing rather than Lewis'.Radcliffe wrote The Italian in 1797 as a reply to Lewis' The Monk and The Italian is going to be my next gothic read.
It's no coincidence that the opening epigraph of Lewis' one and only novel is from Shakespeare's _Measure for Measure_. Both works have pillars of public moral rectitude collapsing after encountering their first major temptation of carnality. Monk Ambrosio figures in for a penny, in for a pound, and starts the slide from mere sex to murder, incest, despair, and damnation. Lewis' streamlined prose abandons the detailed descriptions of Gothic architecture and Alpine vistas favored by his model Ann Radcliffe. And, in a plot of not two but four frustrated lovers, he crams many a gruesome incident and image. No Radcliffean rationalism for Lewis. Despite frequent criticms of the superstition of Spain during the Inquistion, this plot revels in the supernatural with curses, ghosts, Bleeding Nuns, Wandering Jews, and the Prince of Demons himself. Yet, despite the melodrama, there is an air of psychological realism in how Monk Ambrosio rationalizes his escalation of evil. Perhaps more disturbing is the mind of Matilda, his first lover, and her willingness to advise and aid his evil even after he has sexually spurned her. Stephen King's introduction is, like many such introductions to classic works, an unfortunate spoiler of much of the plot. However, most of his observations are valid and interesting though I'm dubious that all English novels before Horace Walpole's _The Castle of Otranto_ had moral purposes. (Lewis novel seems to have no serious moral statement except, perhaps, that the chaste life of the convent and monastery is unnatural.) Oxford University Press seems to have taken the typesetting of this edition from an earlier one. A lot of asterisks show up in the text without accompanying footnotes. A minor annoyance to a novel that holds up well after more than 200 years.
This book was censored towards the end of the 18th century. And now I know why: it is lurid. There passion, rape, incest, sex...in the monastery, convent, garden, and mausoleum. This book would no be out of date for the present as a trashy romance story. The book is a fast read, although some readers, like me, will find that the two long digressions that appear in the book will make you go back to the beginning to remember what the other characters' names are, the original plot, what happened earlier, etc. However, the digressions make for a good gothic tale unto its self. The mini-story "The Bleeding Nun" is full of horror, ghosts, midnight trysts, murder, gloomy castles, forbidden love that I did not mind the digression that much. Ambrosio becomes enamored of a novitiate in his monastery that turns out to be a woman called Matilde. She seduces him and they have sex in her bedroom. He eventually gets tired of her and sets his sight on the beautiful, innocent, doe-eyed Antonia. Matilde helps him to take away Antonia's innocence, with a very surprising twist at the end that Satan tells Ambrosio as he holds the monk over the ravine. Meanwhile, back at the convent, Agatha's brother and her lover, by whom she became pregnant in the convent garden, are attempting to retrieve Agatha from the tyrannous Mother Superior at St. Claire's convent, who punishes Agatha and will not let her go because her connections promote as an elite convent. This book was an interpretation of Ann Radcliffe's "The Mysteries of Udolpho", who countered Lewis' "The Monk" with "The Italian." "The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk" is a good biography that later turned out to be false and a similar plot structure to Lewis' work. Going more towards the literature side of things, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" features a priest as a villain as well. Also, if you're interested in reading parodies, Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey" is an excellent choice. "The Monk" was also turned into a movie called "Seduction of a Priest". (Recommendations taken from Wikipedia)
Now don't get me wrong. I think The Monk is quite an achievement for a nineteen year old. And a hella fun read. But there is a certain adolescent ...umh, ...er,..." yearning"... that distinguishes this novel and its psychological insights from say, Stendhals's The Red and The Black. You know, that kind of "yearning" that Cialis and Viagra help promote - yet suggest that you see a physician about if it lasts more than eight hours. Somehow I think Matthew Lewis spent more than a few days, in his teen years, in London infirmaries (or bawdy houses) resolving his priapisms.Still, how can you not be charmed by a Gothic tour de force that includes a Bleeding Nun, a Wandering Jew, a girl in monk drag, and a charismatic but villainous cleric who was born a few centuries too soon for televangelism fame. Not to mention thugs and wayside inns, ghosts, love philtres, Satanic rites, crypts, graveyards and enough genteel yet passionate lust to make you think you're at a Charo concert. Oh, don't forget Domina, a Mother Superior in the Joan Crawford mold, who would have no trouble improvising a second use for wire coat hangers.My only real problem, in reading the novel - which is surprisingly swift and smooth, considering its age and unsolicited interjections of poetry - was keeping straight the names of some of the supporting male characters. Lewis sometimes refers to a character by his relationship to another (uncle, nephew etc) sometimes by his title (Duke of whatever), sometimes by his Christian name, and sometimes descriptively. This confusion is further exacerbated by the presence of several young women - Antonia, Mathilda, and Agnes - who all morph into similarly described Romantic-cum-sex objects at moments in the novel. It takes a bit of concentration to keep them all straight. This concentration counters the pace of Lewis's storytelling which champs at the bit to run a steeplechase.Quite a romp - all in all - and a bit daring for its day. Although, I suppose, not as daring for an Englishman as if the villainous cleric had been a member of the Church of England. More sort of "Oh those Spanish and their Holy Roman church, eh wot? In short, another Gothic novel, that I wish Stanley Kubrick had made into a film, and which might have covered some of the same ground as "Eyes Wide Shut".
Unless you are a graduate student of gothic literature (or perhaps especially), this is the type of book that is best read with a glass of merlot in an soft leather armchair and preferably late at night. The experience of reading this work, hard to put into words, can be roughly described as "full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes." Medievalesque notions of virtue and honour reign supreme in the actions of Don Lorenzo, bands of thieves congregate in the forests outside of Strasbourg, ghosts patrol the inner chambers, and devils slink among the monasteries. Oh yes, and did we mention the part about the monk bringing innocent maidens down to the catacombs? If you're a sucker for wild romances that channel Voltaire's Candide or the picturesque adventures of Don Quixote, Lewis's work is certainly for you. Even if you're not, a bit of decadent indulgence never hurt anyone.
Never before has an old classic been so enjoyable. As improbable as it might seem in retrospect, I studied this book in literature class among the larger topic of gothic literature and it remains one of my favorite books to this day.Lewis pushes all the characteristics of the gothic genre to their extreme until all the situations reach the limit between absurd and parody. But in spite of all its critical humor, or maybe even because of it, the book never gives the impression of mockery - the love of Lewis for writing and the genre he inhabits permeates throughout with passionate enthusiasm.Just as interesting to study for Lewis' indeniable command of style and literary codes as it is just plain fun to read for its outrageous content, The Monk is the equivalent in book form of a rave party on crack thrown in the most respectable of cathedrals.
This book takes a chapter or two to get into, although ti's relatively fast paced when you do. I think the plot moves along nicely and is really interested. I actually enjoyed reading it. I also appreciated Lewis' descriptive style. My only complaint is that at times it's hard to follow who's who.
One of the things which is often said about this novel is that it represents Lewis's rage against a society in which he was unable to freely express his (homo)sexuality and now that I've read it I am left scratching my head over this claim - if only because, Ambrosio's seemingly paternal affection for presumed boy novice "Rosario" apart, there is nothing in the novel which suggests homosexual themes.Rage against something, however, there does seem to be. In his introduction, Maclachlan discusses what he terms Lewis's misogyny but is this correct? While we may speak of the malicious treachery of Antonia's aunt Rodolpha, the actively evil Matilda and the ridiculously flirtatious middle-aged or elderly Leonella, we may also point to several of the male characters who are hopelessly unmanned in the course of the novel - for example Don Raymond's taking to his bed in a fit of the vapours following the loss of Agnes, and the Baron Lindenberg who is completely passive and dominated by his wife. So if some of the female characters are "unsexed" then so are at least some of the male ones too. And Ambrosio doesn't exactly put up much of a fight against the loss of his own virtue. Matilda may be a temptress but she doesn't have to work too hard to part him from his virtue. Noticeably, too, Matilda has the wit and sophistication to bargain a good deal out of the Devil, whereas the supposedly intellectually more sophisticated monk dithers to the point of panic before finally and hurriedly making a bargain that isn't. But then, women were regarded as the Devil's creatures so perhaps He has a soft spot for us.The events of the novel are the standard stuff of gothic literature - a sensational rollercoaster of graveyards, the imagery of death, plenty of sex (all of it heterosexual), rape and plots against female virtue, murder, torture, hypocrisy, family secrets, physical and moral corruption, unlikely co-incidences et al.This was for the most part unexpectedly entertaining, indeed compelling, reading although it did bludgeon the reader quite mercilessly at times.
A brilliant gothic psycho-drama with incredible and unique characters. A protagonist totally sensible to the good and evil warring within the self, yet unable to prevail over predestiny such that compels one to fear for ones own fate. Lord Byron said of the author something to the effect of ‘all of hell must exist within his head’. The narrative written in a lyrical style is filled with numerous interrelated subplots as to bring to mind a medieval tapestry. It is hard to imagine the author was barely into his twenties when he wrote this gem for the ages. One wonders why he is not better known. Highly recommend this book that fails not to surprise to the very last page.
[Night] <p> Spent 90 dollars at Hot topic today :3
I was surprised by how this book took a turn from what I was expecting. The more I read, the more I appreciated the story. I had to push myself at times to finish it because it was difficult with the spellings but it was worth it.