25 October 2011
Book Review: The Monk
Author: Matthew Gregory Lewis
Publisher/Year: Dover / 1796
Date Finished: 3 October 2011
Source/Format: SwapTree / Print
Book #: 75
Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid
Challenges: Gothic Reading,
The Short and Sweet of It
Set in 15th century Madrid, The Monk interweaves three stories, each tragic, beautiful, and terrifying in their own way. Ambrosio, the monk of the title, leads a pure and guiltless life until beguiled by a woman into vice. Raymond wishes for nothing more than to marry a woman taken from him by superstition. Lorenzo bridges the two, in love with one woman and brother to another fated to hardship.
A Bit of a Ramble
I originally heard about the monk on Amanda's blog when she absolutely raved about this story. Darlyn, over at Your Move, Dickens, also had all sorts of good things to say. Like her, I really believe that the less you know going in, the happier you will be. The entire story is just such a wonderful surprise as the three stories rather effortlessly flow in and out of each other, each one sensationally Gothic in nature. Abounding with monks, nuns, secret passageways, cold corridors, nasty weather, soul-selling witches, prurient interests, superstition, and the occasional dead body, The Monk fits in perfectly with the eerie October feel.
One thematic issue I appreciated focused on the negative role of superstition, specifically of faith. Relatively logical people make decisions based on fear of the supernatural to the detriment of either themselves or others. In this instance the "supernatural" that inspires fear is most generally God. A protesting young girl is confined to a convent based on a promise to God made by her mother before giving birth. A man's fear of God's punishment after death causes him to act rashly and against his better judgement. Some become overwhelmed with fear and ignore signs that another needs help. Many, many people allow fear to overcome sensibility to negative consequence.
Personally I am a big fan of logic and common sense. Regardless of a person's faith, structured thinking based in fact should be the primary determinant of behavior. I do honestly believe that most agree with me - even the most religious. There's a reason menstruating women are no longer exiled from the community. No matter what the spiritual text of a religion says, certain elements are ignored or modified in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I just wish this would happen more often.
Okay, so I've gone quite far off topic here. Back to reviewing the book.... This story was a real page turner for me. I often found myself so engrossed in the tale that more time would pass than I had allowed myself for reading. The Introduction to the story says "it may be admitted at once that this erst belauded romance has little claim to perpetuation on its own merits" and that "only disappointment awaits anyone who [fancies] The Monk in any way a great book" but I heartily disagree. I think this story much deserving of accolades on its entertainment value alone, and I very much recommend reading it.
I will warn future readers however, that this is not the most comforting of books. The gothic qualities set up that wonderful atmosphere readers of this type of lit love so much, but the actions which take place move well beyond the scary ghost or foreboding breeze. Some truly evil crimes are committed. There are specific, likeable victims. And happily ever after comes at a great price.
If I've missed your review, let me know!
I read this as part of October's Classics Circuit - Gothic Literature. Be sure to check out the other posts going up this month!