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The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis

The Monk (original 1796; edition 2003)

by Matthew Gregory Lewis

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2,934601,960 (3.8)1 / 334
Title:The Monk
Authors:Matthew Gregory Lewis
Info:Dover Publications (2003), Paperback, 320 sivua
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Monk by Matthew Lewis (1796)

  1. 50
    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.
  2. 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.
  3. 10
    The Italian by Ann Radcliffe (kara.shamy)

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English (56)  French (3)  Spanish (1)  All (60)
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In an era when confessors were super stars, Ambrosio was the most sought after cleric in Madrid. Whenever he preached, it was standing room only, but not because of any excess of devotion on the part of the faithful. Rather
The women came to show themselves, the men to see the women: some were attracted by curiosity to see an orator so celebrated; some came, because they had no better means of employing their time till the play began; some, from being assured it would be impossible to find places in the church; and one half of Madrid was brought hither by expecting to meet the other half.

At thirty, Ambrosio was already abbot of the Capuchin monastery where he had lived since being left there as an infant foundling. His reputation was that of a pure and saintly scholar. However, on the day we first meet Ambrosio, it is obvious that his status and ability were a source of unholy pride to him. Sitting in his room after that day's sermon, he congratulates himself on the impact he has made on his audience. Contemplating an image of the Madonna, his mind drifts from future ambitions to "impure" thoughts about her beauty, which he deflects by congratulating himself on being able to resist temptation.

This initial glimpse of the monk and his congregation is the first in a series of signals to the reader, but not to the characters themselves, that things are not what they appear to be. Although there are hints to the reader about connections between characters, these will only be revealed slowly through to the last horrifying discovery.

Ambrosio is joined in his room by the young acolyte Rosario, later revealed to be Matilda, the model for the painting of the Madonna. Matilda successfully seduces Ambrosio, who then keeps her identity secret in order to continue their affair. Once Matilda realizes he is tiring of her, she leads him still further astray, helping him fulfill his desires with the aid of black magic. Rape and murder ensue as Matilda ensnares the monk tighter and tighter.

Interwoven with Ambrosio's story is that of Raymond, whose adventures in the German forest act as an antidote to the horror of Madrid's ecclesiastic institutions. While still maintaining the Gothic elements of paranoia, barbarism and taboo, Raymond's tale is much more of this world, one ordinary mortals can understand. Raymond's fiancee Agnes discovers she is pregnant while he is away and joins the convent of St Clare. When the prioress discovers Agnes' condition, she sentences her to a life of imprisonment in the catacombs.

When it was first published in 1795, this book created a scandal due to the racy content, imagery, and the attack on organized religion and the Bible itself; "no reading more improper could be permitted a young woman... the annals of a brothel would scarcely furnish a greater choice of indecent expressions", a description that would have fitted Lewis' own book in the minds of a good part of the reading public. The uproar was such that Lewis reworked some of these views in later editions.

Ludicrous as the plot might sound to a modern reader and lurid as the writing might seem, [The Monk] is a superb psychological study of a man driven beyond all societal constraints, an educated man who recognized and agonized over each step in his descent into utter depravity, yet took it all the same.

In the last chapter, Ambrosio and Matilda must face the Grand Inquisitor. The final scenes revealing Ambrosio's fate show Lewis as a master of the Gothic tale, as with one final plot twist, the victimizer ultimately is victimized.
1 vote SassyLassy | Feb 13, 2016 |
I somehow managed to get through this much of my life, including a college class in gothic literature; without ever reading this book. How? It was great!
Published in 1796 and written by a 19-year-old, it was a massive, bestselling success in its day - and it really still holds up as a fun, entertaining read.

This particular edition had the most *awful* introduction EVER, though. (I will not dignify the author of said intro by even mentioning his name, which I had never heard before anyway.) It was snide, condescending, and totally missed the point, by criticizing gothic literature as a genre, Lewis as a writer and the Monk in general - and damning it with faint praise, for the WRONG things. (the intro was written in the '50's, before the new attention the gothic genre has gotten in academia).
Anyway, the intro-writer was trying to judge the book as a Work of Literature, and an Exploration of the Fall of a Virtuous Man, and all that kind of crap.

It's NOT.

It's an intentionally blasphemous, often hilarious, tragically dramatic tale, full of sorcery, devil-worship, ill-fated (and not-so-ill-fated) love, scandal, murder, ghosts, the Inquisition, cruel nuns, spooky castles, exotic locales, torture, dungeons, beautiful maidens... and of course, the particularly evil titular Monk.
Yes, there's some pointed commentary of the hypocrisy of many religious types, as well as some quite funny social commentary (which often seems AMAZINGLY apropos for today, considering the age of the book) - but this was a book written to entertain - and titillate. It's definitely not as shocking today as it probably was then - and the plot is not quite as tightly sewn together as modern editors demand - but it's still a rousing good read. ( )
1 vote AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
This 18th century gothic horror novel has a pretty convoluted plot. The action takes place around a monastery and convent in Madrid. Ambrosio, the monk of the title, is widely considered the most pious man in the city; however, his vanity and pride open him up to a wide variety of worse sins. The supernatural plays a large part in the novel as the characters regularly see ghosts and summon demons.

This novel was just ok for me. I didn't love it, and I didn't hate it. The several different plotlines could have been woven together more smoothly instead of just jumping from one to the other every couple of chapters. It also got a bit more graphic that I like in places. If you’re looking for a classic gothic/horror novel, this would be the epitome of the genre.
( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
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. ( )
1 vote sweetzombieducky | Nov 28, 2015 |
The biggest flaw of this Gothic horror story for me was the somewhat dated style of writing (similar to that of Defoe). I think the creepiest part may have been the very end, in which the Spanish Inquisition is investigating Ambrosio (the monk) - partly because I suspect some of the tortures described may have been really used during this period of history!

I could quickly see why this book fell into disrepute during the early Victorian times, as it includes somewhat graphic (if flowery) descriptions of carnal sins and horrifying tortures. I did have to chuckle a few times at the very English repugnance of Catholics that showed in some of the descriptions! And I could see why authors such as Jane Austen parodied this type of melodrama. However, I was surprised by the fact that Ambrosio wasn't painted as entirely evil & his struggles with his conscience were sometimes quite moving. ( )
1 vote leslie.98 | Nov 4, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Matthew Lewisprimary authorall editionscalculated
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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Somnia, terrores magicos, miracula,sagas,
Nocturnos lemures, portentaque.

Dreams, magic terrors, spells of mighty power,
Witches, and ghosts who rove at midnight hour.
First words
Scarcely had the abbey-bell tolled for five minutes, and already was the church of the Capuchins thronged with auditors.
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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:48 -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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 6 descriptions

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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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