Title: The Monk
Author: Matthew Lewis
Spain, 18th Century. The charismatic monk, Abbot of the Capuchins, Ambrosio, is well known and valued among Madrid’s worshippers. The monk in his thirties is achieving undreamed success and everyone wants to listen to his sermons and meet him. But he lives a strictly ascetic life within the monastery walls. Until he succumbs to a temptation of Matilda, a beautiful girl disguise as a novice. Ambrosio can’t resist and Matilda seduces him, but soon, she’s not enough for him. Ambrosio lays eyes on beautiful, young and innocent Antonia. But her heart is already promised to handsome Lorenzo.
However, Lorenzo overlooks, what plans has a monk with his beloved one because he’s too busy with helping a friend, Raymond, who must rescue his fiance (Lorenzo’s sister) from an evil plan, created against her by nuns from the monastery where she lives.
During this, Ambrosio has time, to plot his evil plan how to win Antonia and because she resists his seduction, he resorts to black magic, where Matilda helps him.
The book shows a situation in Spain in the 18th century. People clung to the Christian values and church representatives have had a tremendous impact on society. But despite this devout piety, there was also a lot of hypocrisy – they all defended the values and Christian principles while they also violated them. And Lewis excellent demonstrate all this hypocrisies and lies.
The hypocrisy is most apparent at monk Ambrosio. In society, monk enjoys a great reputation, his status almost verges on divinity. However, he’s aware of his sinful side and once he crosses the border, he cannot stop. The first time he succumbs to temptation, he becomes the biggest sinner among all. No crime is an obstacle for him, to achieving his goals and desires. And I felt bad for him because whenever he got what he wanted, the thing was no longer interesting to him and he needed something new to long for.
Antonia, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. She’s the image of innocence and naivety and because of her beauty, she becomes the object of admiration. And Ambrosio’s admiration later grows into obsession. In general are women in the book presented as naive, not to mention a romantic side of the book. Of course, I have always tried to keep in mind the time period in which the book was written, but I still think that relations were too idealized and sappy.
At times, this book was funny, because of situations in which characters found themselves. Some situations were almost comical. On the other hand, it was also sad. Certain things didn’t develop according to my expectations and some characters had suffered a tragic fate, which I surely didn’t expect. And many situations where shocking – no worries, there were no explicit descriptions but still Lewis knew how to write about sex (rape, incest) and violence (murder) to shock a reader.
Also, for my taste, there was too strictly separation between good and evil. The characters who were considered good were shown almost like saints. Others were shown as opposite extreme. Ambrosio was the worst pervert and criminal, who is hiding behind his good name and status. Just like nuns from the monastery who imprisoned Raymond’s fiance. And it’s pretty obvious to me, why this book was called “poison of youth” and was banned – Lewis writing style is truly scandalous and provocative. And by criticizing and attacking the church representatives so openly, I can just imagine how many enemies he had.
Conscious that among those who chanted the praises of their God so sweetly, there were some who cloaked with devotion the foulest sins, their hymns inspired him with detestation at their hypocrisy.
I was also glad, that I read this book in Slovenian language, despite the fact that I own an English copy. However, I would probably never read more than one page if I would read this book in English. The language is very specific and writing style dated. Already in Slovenian language, it was strange to read some things. Otherwise, the text is beautifully written and really poetic, yet it is necessary to consider a time in which The Monk was written. Certain terms are old and conversations of characters very lyrical.
I can say that this book is a wonderful read, especially for those who loves gothic novels with black magic, intrigues, and horror.
Rating: 4/5 stars
Did you read The Monk? What are your thoughts about this book? Do you maybe have any other suggestions for a good gothic novels?