The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis

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The Monk by Matthew Gregory LewisInformation

Goodreads: The Monk
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1796

Summary

A Spanish abbot struggles to stay true to his vows when confronted with temptation.

Review

Lewis’s classic Gothic novel may often be predictable, employing heavy foreshadowing and what are now considered Gothic tropes, but it is also captivating, scandalous, insane—I couldn’t look away.  The plot mainly follows a young virgin, a nun, and an abbot and chronicles how their worlds collide.  Along the way, the author flaunts ghosts, witchcraft, love affairs, rape, and chilling settings ranging from old castles to tombs.  Readers will probably see the ending of the story a mile away, but the journey of The Monk is more important than the destination in terms of entertainment.

Spiritually, the destination is critical.  So beyond the somewhat voyeuristic nature of the plot, The Monk occasionally assumes an instructive voice and is plainly interested in exploring conceptions of morality.  The conclusion is the most directly didactic section of the novel, but the entire work emphasizes and attempts to exemplify that the right decisions are not always black and white and that repentant sinners deserve mercy and forgiveness for their shortcomings.  The corrupt titular monk, as well-versed in theology as he is, cannot see this as clearly as other characters, and continuously makes warped moral decisions with the best of “logic.”  The unflattering portrayal of the clergy is clear, and the novel implies that strength of heart, purity of intention, and humility are surer paths to heaven than reason or rank.

The majority of the characters are types, existing merely for the scandalous plot to happen to them or for the author to demonstrate various types of morality.  Readers are introduced to an unimaginably good and beautiful girl, her garrulous aunt, her rich and chivalrous suitor, etc.  Many characters are likeable and mildly interesting, but they are flat and their roles in the story generally clear from the moment they appear on the page.  The abbot, however, does undergo very serious moral quandaries and is fairly dynamic.

The Monk is a fantastic example of Gothic literature and just a generally good read.  It has stood the test of time and is still able to scandalous and enthrall readers today, combining exciting plotlines with intelligent commentary on ethics and humanity.  A recommended read for lovers of classics, Gothic literature, and just good stories.

Content Note: This book is atmospherically dark and addresses many mature themes, often graphically.

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7 thoughts on “The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis

  1. jubilare says:

    ” a new,” a new what?

    I never know whether or not I will like books like this. I will forgive heavy-handedness and trope-orific characters more easily in older works, but a lot depends on my mood, I guess.

    Like

    • Briana says:

      Yeah, I meant “a nun.” I wasn’t even close. x.x Thanks for pointing it out, though! (No one else noticed before I fixed it, right…?)

      I can see it depending on mood. Apparently I was in a very forgiving one while I read it, because I loved every page!

      Like

      • jubilare says:

        Typos happen. It’s up to friends to point them out, like spinach in our teeth. 😉

        Gothic novels can be pretty darn fun when one’s mood is right.

        Like

  2. Mary says:

    For some reason, I love reading the old classic Gothic novels like this that are so ridiculously melodramatic but when current writers use the same themes/settings/plot points I tend to roll my eyes. I still find it shocking how graphic this one was, even considering our current standards!

    Like

    • Briana says:

      I like melodrama in older novels, too! I wonder if there’s a “good” way to be melodramatic, and modern authors rarely do it. Or if we find melodrama “atmospheric” in older books, but just annoying and unrealistic in contemporaries. I have to think about this.

      I was quite scandalized, and very surprised to find myself so!

      Like

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