25 October 2011

Book Review: The Monk

Title: 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.

Around the Web
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!


  1. YAAAAAAAAY!!! I can't tell you how happy I am to see you love this one Trisha!

  2. I can't believe I've never read this! It's probably too late to make it a Halloween read this year, but November is also a good time for Gothic novel. I loved what you had to say about superstition.

  3. One of these days I'm going to read this!

  4. I bought this book awhile ago, and have let it linger for such a long time. I have been casting about for a Halloween book to read and post about, and it sounds like this one may be a top contender! Great post today, and thanks for not going into too much detail with it. I love to be surprised!

  5. I want to read this. For some reason I really like books set in that time period. Sounds great, thanks for the review!

  6. Wait, the introduction says the book is t that great? Lol. I hadn't actually heard of this but it sounds interesting. Scary for sure!

  7. I am with Jenny - I was really surprised that the introduction was such a downer! Ouch. I have heard of this book, but I always thought it would be like most other Gothic novels and not really be particularly interesting, and probably be SUPER-repetitive. I'm glad to hear it's much more logical :-)

  8. Hadn't heard of this book...your review makes it sound intriguing, but "Gothic" is usually not something I gravitate too.

  9. That's the second mention I've heard of this one. I'll have to add it to the old TBR shelf.

  10. Ever since Amanda raved about this one I've been on the lookout for it. Think I'll have to actually break down and get a copy online, though, as I haven't been able to find used locally. Also--I've never asked this before but always wondered--what does "Accept" mean? I get the Buy and Borrow but not sure about Accept.

  11. Trish - Accept means take it if it's offered, but don't feel like you have to run out and find it. :)

  12. I am so reading this book now. Great review and I think we readers should drop all preconceived notions when reading older works. Just accept them for what they are, the great entertainment of their day :)

  13. I was one who really didn't like this book -- but I think I just won't like Gothic Lit for the most part. There were some amusing parts for me but I was pretty disgusted by the description of the crimes, as you say. I love your Short write-up: such a great explanation of the book in a few words!


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