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The Monk (1796)- Matthew Lewis

Related: 1700s literature - 1790s - gothic novel

`The Monk was a black engine of sex and the supernatural that changed the genre--and the novel itself--forever. There has never been anything quite like it. At this writing, the book is over two hundred years old and still explosive' (Stephen King, 2002)

"Antonia shrieked. The Monster clasped her in his arms, and springing with her upon the Altar, tortured her with his odious caresses. She endeavoured in vain to escape from his embrace. Lorenzo flew to her succour, but ere He had time to reach her, a loud burst of thunder was heard. Instantly the Cathedral seemed crumbling into pieces; The Monks betook themselves to flight, shrieking fearfully; The Lamps were extinguished, the Altar sank down, and in its place appeared an abyss vomiting forth clouds of flame. Uttering a loud and terrible cry the Monster plunged into the Gulph, and in his fall attempted to drag Antonia with him. He strove in vain. Animated by supernatural powers She disengaged herself from his embrace; But her white Robe was left in his possession. Instantly a wing of brilliant splendour spread itself from either of Antonia's arms. She darted upwards, and while ascending cried to Lorenzo, `Friend! we shall meet above!' "

The Monk (1796)- Matthew Lewis [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


The story concerns Ambrosio, a monk in Spain and a famous preacher, who is undone by the love of Matilda, his pupil. In order to carnally possess her, Ambrosio sells his soul to Satan. In the middle of telling this story, however, Lewis is frequently lured into further digressions, which serve to heighten the Gothic atmosphere of the tale while doing little to move along the main plot. A lengthy story about a "Bleeding Nun" is told, and many incidental verses are introduced. A second romance, between Lorenzo and Antonia, whom Ambrosio also lusts after, is introduced; there is a tale of a person being buried alive after feigning death. Eventually, however, the story catches back up with Ambrosio, and in several pages of impassioned prose, Ambrosio is delivered into the hands of the Inquisition; he escapes by selling his soul to the devil for his deliverance from the death sentence which awaited him. The story ends with Ambrosio falling from the clutches of the devil's talons as he prayed for God's mercy, and with his damnation.

The Monk is remembered for being one of the more lurid and "transgressive" of the Gothic novels. Featuring demonic pacts, rape, incest, and such props as the Wandering Jew, ruined castles, and the Spanish Inquisition, The Monk serves more or less as a compendium of Gothic taste. Ambrosio, the hypocrite done in by lust, and his sexual misconduct inside the walls of convents and monasteries, is a vividly portrayed villain, as well as an embodiment of much of the traditional English mistrust of Roman Catholicism, with its intrusive confessional, its political and religious authoritarianism, and its cloistered lifestyles. The American fictitious anti-Catholic libel, The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, borrowed much from the plot of this novel. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Monk [Dec 2004]

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