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About Me:18-year-old sixth form student, studying English Literature, History and Government and Politics. My articles will broadly cover topics from the current affairs of politics to reviews of books and albums, as well as adding my own creative pieces, whether it be short fiction or general opinion.
The Monk by Matthew Lewis is a story of the holier-than-thou monk, Ambrosio. You will see it plastered everywhere for promotional purposes that it is a novel that is all about ‘shock’ and ‘even today it leaves you with your eyebrows raised and your mouth open’. But its literary value can easily get submerged in the mediocre connotations of shock and awe. For it is not just a mere eyebrow raising gothic, but a novel that is intensely important for the literary canon.
It tells a story, or, rather, multiple stories, of lives that end up coalescing in a dramatic ending. Ambrosio is seen as a key figure in the ministry of Madrid; he is idolised by men and adored by the women with his sheer piety and words. However, we are thrust into the story when this pious severity has begun to wither. Ambrosio’s mind drifts to lust, earthly longings that he has shun throughout his life. This eventually leads to the monk breaking his chastity with a woman who disguised herself as a man, Matilda, first known as Rosario. Ambrosio’s lust for her begins to dwindle and he comes across Antonia whom the desires fall on to.
As the story progresses we see the unravelling of a publicity figure. In true Dr. Faustus style, Lewis allows for Ambrosio to repent of his sins numerous times, all of which he denies and allows his downfall to plummet at an accelerated speed. The novel is at times hilarious, but we always check our laughter with a juxtaposed deeply dark and undiluted terror. Before our eyes we see one esteemed by all pulled down to societal vermin in pursuit of his desires.
Indeed, what most critics focus on in The Monk is the ability of desire to corrupt the soul. Here we have someone whose very life depends on chastity and yet he commits the worst of crimes – rape and murder. How he gets to this stage comes through a life of repression. Lust has built up inside of him until it has burst, and his pursuit of it will force one who so oved God to turn to sell his soul to Satan for it.
But I believe many people have missed a major factor in the makeup of this novel. To me it is not just desire that is the primary theme running throughout this book, but disguise and perception. It is Madrid’s perception of Ambrosio that facilitates his ravenous desires – how could one so holy perform such a barbaric act? It not only forces us to question our perception of those we hold in such esteem, but it also shows us how we show our appreciation. Does overzealous, perhaps sycophantic fervour, get into the wrong person’s head?
Whether you’re shocked or not, The Monk is a brilliant and dense novel that time and criticism has not afforded it, and it deserves to stand out against its shocking name.
Image Credits: bookdepository.com