is a Gothic novel
by Matthew Lewis that first appeared in 1796
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, only to fall prey to the Devil, who waits to collect his due under their bargain. The story ends with Ambrosio falling from the clutches of an eagle, 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.
- He examined the Book which She had been reading, and had now placed upon the Table. It was the Bible.
- "How!" said the Friar to himself; "Antonia reads the Bible, and is still so ignorant?"
- But, upon a further inspection, He found that Elvira had made exactly the same remark. That prudent Mother, while She admired the beauties of the sacred writings, was convinced that, unrestricted, no reading more improper could be permitted a young Woman. Many of the narratives can only tend to excite ideas the worst calculated for a female breast: Every thing is called plainly and roundly by its name; and the annals of a Brothel would scarcely furnish a greater choice of indecent expressions. Yet this is the Book which young Women are recommended to study; which is put into the hands of Children, able to comprehend little more than those passages of which they had better remain ignorant; and which but too frequently inculcates the first rudiments of vice, and gives the first alarm to the still sleeping passions. Of this was Elvira so fully convinced, that She would have preferred putting into her Daughter's hands Amadis de Gaul, or The Valiant Champion, Tirante the White; and would sooner have authorised her studying the lewd exploits of Don Galaor, or the lascivious jokes of the Damsel Plazer di mi vida. She had in consequence made two resolutions respecting the Bible. The first was that Antonia should not read it till She was of an age to feel its beauties, and profit by its morality: The second, that it should be copied out with her own hand, and all improper passages either altered or omitted. She had adhered to this determination, and such was the Bible which Antonia was reading: It had been lately delivered to her, and She perused it with an avidity, with a delight that was inexpressible. Ambrosio perceived his mistake, and replaced the Book upon the Table.