The Monk available in Paperback
'He was deaf to the murmurs of conscience, and resolved to satisfy his desires at any price.'
The Monk (1796) is a sensational story of temptation and depravity, a masterpiece of Gothic fiction and the first horror novel in English literature. The respected monk Ambrosio, the Abbot of a Capuchin monastery in Madrid, is overwhelmed with desire for a young girl; once having abandoned his monastic vows he begins a terrible descent into immorality and violence. His appalling fall from grace embraces blasphemy, black magic, torture, rape, and murder, and places his very soul in jeopardy.
Lewis's extraordinary tale drew on folklore, legendary ghost stories, and contemporary dread inspired by the terrors of the French Revolution. Its excesses shocked the reading public and it was condemned as obscene. The novel continues to beguile and shock readers today with its gruesome catalogue of iniquities, while at the same time giving a profound insight into the deep anxieties experienced by British citizens during one of the most turbulent periods in the nation's history.
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About the Author
Nick Groom publishes widely for both academic and popular readerships and his recent books include The Forger's Shadow (2002), The Union Jack (2006), The Gothic: A Very Short Introduction (2012), and an edition of Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto for Oxford World's Classics (2014). His book The Seasons: An Elegy for the Passing Year (2013) was shortlisted for the Katharine Briggs Folklore Award and nominated for BBC Countryfile Book of the Year.
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Excerpted from "The Monk"
Copyright © 1999 Matthew Lewis.
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Table of Contents
|Note on the Text||xxxi||(4)|
|A Chronology of Matthew Gregory Lewis||xxxvii|
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Guide
1)One of the most damning criticisms of The Monk was made by Reverend Thomas Mathias, who called it blasphemous. Because of controversy like this, Lewis excised certain passages for the fourth and fifth editions. Mathias pointed to the passage in the first edition where Antonia reads from an expurgated bible because the original was improper for women. Are there other instances of blasphemy in the text? What critiques of Christianity does Lewis seem to be making? How might the novel be considered anti-Catholic?
2)The main plot, concerning Ambrosio, derives from the story of Santon Barsisa, which appeared in The Guardian in 1713. The secondary plot, of Raymond and Agnes, which seems to be of Lewis’s own creation. What do you believe he intended by telling this multi-faceted tale? Why not let the story of Ambrosio stand alone? How do the two stories run parallel to each other?
3)How does Lewis reconcile religion and superstition? Consider the roles of the Bleeding Nun and the Wandering Jew.
4)What kind of position was Monk Lewis taking with respect to the social and religious establishments of the eighteenth centuries? Might he have been commenting on what may happen when our individual choices are taken away? Consider how this might be applicable to contemporary issues.
5)The Monk was Lewis’s only novel; he was primarily known as a playwright. Look at both the physical and structural architecture in The Monk. How might the novel be considered theatrically structured?
6)Critic Christopher Maclachlan notes that in many ways this novel presents a more positive portrayal of women’s sexuality than does other gothic fiction. Does this arguments hold true for all the female characters? What deeper significance could this proto-feminism have?
7)Consider the shifting tone throughout the novel. How do these nuances affect our reading?
8)Ann Radcliffe was disgusted by The Monk and retaliated with her version of a gothic novel called The Italian, first published in 1797. Radcliffe’s novel ends on a happy note, the lovers reuniting. This provided a stark contrast to the Lewis’s ending with Ambrosio’s demonical torture. Compare these endings. What seems to work better? Keep in mind that these novels were originally known as romance novels.