Goodreads: The Monk
A Spanish abbot struggles to stay true to his vows when confronted with temptation.
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.