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The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis
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The Monk (original 1796; edition 2003)

by Matthew Gregory Lewis

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2,575552,327 (3.82)1 / 265
Member:CosmaNoir
Title:The Monk
Authors:Matthew Gregory Lewis
Info:Dover Publications (2003), Paperback, 320 sivua
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:None

Work details

The Monk by Matthew Lewis (1796)

  1. 40
    Le diable amoureux by Jacques Cazotte (Jannes)
    Jannes: The Monk is generally considered to be heavily influenced by Le Diable amoureux, and the novels share several themes, most obviously the idea of the devil in the form of a seductive woman.
  2. 30
    The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (DanLovesAlice)
    DanLovesAlice: Both texts share the notion of the duplicity of man, and study how society and social roles can imprison our most primitive urges.
  3. 10
    The Italian by Ann Radcliffe (kara.shamy)
  4. 01
    Valerie and Her Week of Wonders by Vítězslav Nezval (StevenTX)
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English (51)  French (3)  Spanish (1)  All languages (55)
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
When The Monk was first published in 1796 it was surrounded by heated hatred and scandal. One critic claimed that The Monk was full of "Lust, murder, incest, and every atrocity that can disgrace human nature"; a line that now seems to commonly appear in the synopsis. While this novel is a transgressive gothic novel and possibly one of the first books to feature a priest in such a villainous way there is so much more going on within the pages. To begin, we must look at the context, and it is not surprising that this novel had so much anger towards it when it was released. The reader has to understand that this novel was released in a period of time where everything was changing. The church still played a huge role in English society but across the channel the French Revolution was raging on, so in the middle of a changing society came a novel that tried to explore the political and religious authoritarianism of the church.

The Monk is set in a sinister monastery in Madrid, were Ambrosio struggled between maintaining his monastic vows and falling to temptation. We follow this monk as desire turns to obsession, to rape and then murder in order to conceal the guilt. Ambrosio is a celebrated and devout monk of 30 years but we read his downfall due to desire and pride. This novel is a social commentary of everything wrong with the church as the author sees it. The Monk follows the story of Ambriosio's disillusion, from a well-respected Monk, serving God to a psychologically scared man.

Matthew Lewis wrote this novel at 19 years old and I think it is important to mention that I don't view The Monk as an indictment of God or the Church but more critique of the corrupting power that comes with the priesthood. When I read this I got the impression that Lewis wanted to explore the hidden struggles that come with the vows of a monk as well as the effects of power. When we think about all the evil the church has done, it is not God or religion that is to blame but rather the people. Guilt and power can corrupt and essentially we are looking at a man going to great lengths to disguise his transgressions.
This is not an easy read and I found myself struggling at times to get through this book but there is so much going on I found it hard to believe that when this was first published it was dubbed this gothic classic to be crude and lacking of depth. In the heavily censored edition of this novel published in 1798 saw all words like lust and desire removed from the text. Even words like enjoyment were removed and any mention of sex; I can't imagine how the essence of The Monk would have remained with this heavily edited edition. While there was plenty of hatred toward the novel, the critics seemed to have mixed feelings towards it. Samuel Taylor Coleridge both praised and judged harshly in his article found in The Critical Review, saying “[the] underplot... is skilfully and closely connected with the main story, and is subservient to its development” and “The Monk is a romance, which if a parent saw in the hands of a son or daughter, he might reasonably turn pale.”

However The Monk looks at more than just the monastery, it even looks at what seems like an anti-feminist movement going on within the Church. The convent seems like a harsh place to live, the women brutally treated and never allowed to succeed. Woman are seen as the downfall of the monks and other woman but there is so much lust, desire and sexual misconduct that happens inside the walls of convents and monasteries. Matilda posed as a man in order to get close to Ambrosio, at first it wasn't to seduce but to bask in his brilliance. She is portrayed as a she-devil but is it really her fault that Ambrosio gave into his earthly desires. As one critic stated “It is Ambrosio’s sexual ignorance and hence ‘innocence’ that makes him vulnerable to Matilda’s seduction” (Blakemore, 1998). This made me ponder and question the whole approach to life in a monastery, especially in an era where priests are more likely to be sexually ignorant.

I've mentioned a few times that The Monk was met with hatred and I think this is still true today; people tend to see the book as anti-religious, anti-Catholic and immoral but this is a problem with taking text to literally. The Monk is a satire and socially critiques the church in what feels like a comedic kind of approach. It happens that this is also a transgressive gothic novel so we have a very brutal and dark approach to the themes Matthew Lewis wants to explore. Near the start of the book I read the line "She was wise enough to hold her tongue. As this is the only instance known of a Woman's ever having done so, it was judged worthy to be recorded here" and thought it was a little harsh; I soon began to see a real tongue in cheek approach emerging from this dark novel.

I started off thinking this was a gothic novel and it was going to be dark and serious but I soon found myself adjusting my approach. Once I got past my initial misconceptions I started to settle into this book and ended up really enjoying The Monk. It took a while to get into a groove and found the first part of the book to be particularly difficult to get through. Then the plot started to settle in and I was able to explore the themes and enjoy the journey I was taken on. I'm so glad I finally got around to reading this gothic classic, it is weird but wonderful. I hope everyone else enjoys it as much as I did.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2014/07/30/the-monk-by-matthew-lewis/ ( )
  knowledge_lost | Dec 8, 2014 |
Available as a free audio book at librivox.org
  captbirdseye | Sep 10, 2014 |
This novel is all about Christian, specifically Catholic, sexual hysteria. Sex seems to determine everyone's motivation in the first volume. This makes sense when you consider that it was written by a nineteen year old for whom these obsessions were no doubt a daily occurence. Fortunately for us, he has managed to sublimate them into the form of a novel. (Which puts me in mind of E.M. Forster, who, when touched on the ass by an admirer at a tender age, promptly went home and wrote Maurice.)

A duenna and her charge arrive in Madrid from provincial Mucia some time in the very late eighteenth century. For some reason no doubt to be made clear later, they arrive at a church where the much talked about Father Ambrosio is to speak. The father is a paragon of virtue. He has spent his thirty years entirely immersed in studies and prayer at the local Capuchin monastery. While waiting for the good father to arrive the duenna, Leonella, who is fifty-one, and her charge, Antonia, who is fifteen, are questioned by two young men and their tale of woe is gradually revealed. This is essentially a tale of Antonia's mother, seduced by a libertine, who runs away with her to the West Indies where thirteen years later he dies leaving her penniless so she must return to Spain with baby Antonia in tow to throw herself on the mercy of her outraged father.

The wholly pure Ambrosio then spends the next sixty pages undergoing two events: the first is his heartless condemnation of a nun who has allowed herself to be seduced. She is with child but Ambrosio gives her into the hands of the prioress of her order for purposes of punishment; the second event is Ambrosio's seduction by a woman disguised as a young man, one Rosario, who has shamelessly broken the sanctity of the monastery. That at least is how Ambrosio sees it before he eventually gives way to godless and all too enjoyable rutting with the woman. These pages are tumescent with hot-blooded satanic sex. It is hard to believe they first saw the light of day in 1796. What an earth-shattering fireball this novel must have been then.

One of the gentlemen entertaining the two new arrivals at the church is a nobleman, Lorenzo. It is his sister, Agnes, who has just been sacrificed by Father Ambrosio to the prioress. Now we enter into a long divagation narrated by the sister's nobleman lover, the Marquis de las Cisternas. First there is the interlude in the forest outside Strasborg in which the Marquis walks into a nest of banditti who wish him only ill. This is a vividly described section with lots of action and blood. At extraordinary length, the Marquis survives, as he must if we are to get the story of how Agnes becomes trapped into entering a convent by a guardian jealous of her relationship with the Marquis. This section involves some decisions on the part of the Marquis that no adult man with any romantic experience would make. In other words, the crudeness here really smacks of a nineteen year old writing his first novel. Yet the vivacity of the writing somehow continues to hold the reader despite these howlers.

Later, we move on to Ambrosio's repeated sexcapades with Matilda (Rosario). The prioress's lie to brother Lorenzo that his sister Agnes has died in childbirth. Father Ambrosio as he overhears the prioress's evil plans for punishing Agnes on his way to an assignation with Matilda. Father Ambrosio's attempted seduction of a the young Antonia, innocent of carnal knowledge, and his deal with the devil to gain access to her lily-white body. The satisfying denouement I will not describe. Suffice it to say that Lewis's writing becomes more assured as he proceeds. By chapter 7, more than half way through, his writing becomes, as John Berryman discusses in his introduction, "passionate and astonishing." ( )
1 vote William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Liked it, good book... 7/10
  Linehache | May 18, 2014 |
Fantastic story of murder and lust. Nice twist at the end. The sub-plot with the imprisoned nun was fantastic and her discovery was quite stomach-turning. ( )
  sweetzombieducky | Feb 14, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (56 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Matthew Lewisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Anderson, HowardEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fonzi, BrunoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gällmo, GunnarTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
MacLachlan, ChristopherIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McEvoy, EmmaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Praz, MarioContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Somnia, terrores magicos, miracula,sagas,
Nocturnos lemures, portentaque.
                  HORAT

Dreams, magic terrors, spells of mighty power,
Witches, and ghosts who rove at midnight hour.
Dedication
First words
Scarcely had the abbey-bell tolled for five minutes, and already was the church of the Capuchins thronged with auditors.
Quotations
None sleep so profoundly, as those who are determined not to wake.
An Author, whether good or bad, or between both, is an Animal whom every body is privileged to attack, For though All are not able to write books, all conceive themselves able to judge them.
Agnes! Agnes! Thou art mine! / Agnes! Agnes! I am thine! / In my veins while blood shall roll / Thou art mine! / I am thine! / Thine thy body! / Thine my soul!
Raymond! Raymond! Thou art mine! / Raymond! Raymond! I am thine! / In my veins while blood shall roll / I am thine! / Thou art mine! / Mine thy body! / Mine thy soul!
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Although some early editions give the title as "Ambrosio, or the Monk," both the first edition and the overwhelming majority of later editions give the give merely as "The Monk". See the facsimile of the first edition's title-page in the 1952 Grove Press reprint.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140436030, Paperback)

‘Few could sustain the glance of his eye, at once fiery and penetrating’

Savaged by critics for its supposed profanity and obscenity, and bought in large numbers by readers eager to see whether it lived up to its lurid reputation, The Monk became a succès de scandale when it was published in 1796 – not least because its author was a member of parliament and only twenty years old. It recounts the diabolical decline of Ambrosio, a Capuchin superior, who succumbs first to temptations offered by a young girl who has entered his monastery disguised as a boy, and continues his descent with increasingly depraved acts of sorcery, murder, incest and torture. Combining sensationalism with acute psychological insight, this masterpiece of Gothic fiction is a powerful exploration of how violent and erotic impulses can break through the barriers of social and moral restraint.

This edition is based on the first edition of 1796, which appeared before Lewis’s revisions to avoid charges of blasphemy. In his introduction, Christopher MacLachlan discusses the novel’s place within the Gothic genre, and its themes of sexual desire and the abuse of power.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:34 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Set in the sinister monastery of the Capuchins in Madrid, this is a violent tale of ambition, murder, and incest. The struggle between maintaining monastic vows and fulfilling personal ambitions tempts its main character into breaking his vows.

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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140436030, 0141191961, 0141199466

Valancourt Books

An edition of this book was published by Valancourt Books.

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