Matthew Lewis's Gothic masterpiece, depicting a holy man slowly becoming entangled in a web of sin, The Monk is edited with an introduction by Christopher MacLachlan in Penguin Classics. Savaged by critics for its blasphemy and obscenity, particularly since the author was a Member of Parliament, The Monk soon attracted thousands of readers keen to see if this Gothic novel lived up to its lurid reputation.
With acute psychological insight, Lewis shows the diabolical decline of Ambrosio, a worthy superior of the Capuchins of Madrid who is tempted by Matilda, a young girl who has entered his monastery disguised as a boy.
Descending into a hell of his own creation, Ambrosio is driven to magic and murder in an attempt to conceal his crimes from the Inquisition.
The Monk was greatly admired by the Marquis de Sade, who saw it as a response to the upheavals of the French Revolution, yet it also reveals something more universal: the way violent and erotic impulses lurking within us all can break through every barrier of social restraint. Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775-1818) was educated at Oxford after which he held a position in the British Embassy at The Hague. It was there in 1794, that he wrote the racy novel The Monk, under the influence of the early German romantics.
Its controversial publication in 1796, due to Lewis' new status as MP, earned him fame and the book a great deal of popularity. If you enjoyed The Monk, you might like Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, also available in Penguin Classics.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 416 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 29/10/1998
- Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780140436037
Showing 1 - 5 of 7 reviews.
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Review by johnxlibris
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.
Review by MelmoththeLost
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.
Review by algiedi
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.
Review by lizpatanders
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.
Review by AlCracka
Finally, some fun in the Enlightenment. The Monk is a blast, a page-turner, chock full of insane plot twists and sinning. <br/><br/>It can't be accused of being terribly well-written, so you know that old debate between eloquence and plot? If you tip heavily toward eloquence, you might not like this as much. <br/><br/>But for me, clawing my way out of a pit of Oh-So-Literary books starved for plot...it's just what I needed. The only 18th-century book that I had more fun with was Voltaire's Candide.<br/><br/>This is also the only 18th-century book I've read that includes magic. All the others have been resolutely set in the real world; it was surprising to me to realize that we were actually going to be horsing around with ghosts and demons here. Weird, huh? It could certainly be that I've just missed all the magic - I'm sure this can't be the only book to include it - but in general the 1700s seemed to completely eschew the supernatural. And it's not like they had no example: Shakespeare used magic in several of his plays, and The Monk is an exploration of the Faust legend that he probably heard about from Marlowe. (Some specific similarities in a couple of key scenes point to Marlowe.) I'm not a huge fan of magic-y stuff anyway, so I doubt this is what made me dislike Enlightenment literature so much; just thought it was interesting.<br/><br/>ETA: Oh, it's Gothic. Stemming from Horace Walpole's 1767 "Castle of Otrando." Okay.
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