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“The Monk” by Matthew Lewis Essay

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Updated: Oct 17th, 2021


The Age of the Enlightenment adored the samples of the classical art, in which it has seen the embodiment of intelligence. Thus, everything which has been created since the epoch of Renaissance till that time is named “gothic” and is thought to be the reflection of barbarism. Nevertheless, in the second half of the18th century, some doubts about the overwhelming power of the mind began to form and a large interest for great passions, for everything not truth like and exaggerated and unexplainable, including the barbarian Middle Ages, arose. As a result of this interest, a new type of novel was created, which is called a gothic novel. Until the mid of the 19th century the essential arena for the events to unfold were the ruins of the old monasteries and castles, where horrors, making one’s flash creep, are taking place. This type of gothic finds out to be closely connected to the fantastic, elevated, picturesque and romantic. It is obvious that the novel, written in a Romantic period by M. G. Lewis “The Monk” is a truly remarkable novel, related to the genre of a gothic novel. It is applicable to every literary movement and discloses the worst sides of the human nature. This novel brought its nineteen-year-old author an unheard-of fame as it gives an important insight into the inner world of a malicious monk who had agenda to rape and kill and managed to do his wicked plans before an Inquisition was about to catch him. The novel discloses the dark side the monk’s nature, who still pretended to be dignified and worthy and seemed to have a strong belief in God. It also explores crucial topics like hypocrisy, sanctimony, the falls faith and attempt to deceive everybody, including oneself and even God. The world of a monstrous vice is governed by the Satan and does not give any clue which can lead to the happy end of the book. The author applies many devices to reach the audience as the confession in the book takes place. The main character uses special means of the speech to make the reader feel compassion for him, and to shift his own blame to others though he is nothing more than a wicked and spiritually dead, morally corrupted, hypocrite.

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The first thing, which comes to the mind of a reader, after having read this book, is a wonder why such a wicked monk manages to successfully pretend to be a good monk. The people almost worship him, thinking that he is a godly man, who stands firm in his faith. The possible answer to this might be that he managed to conceal his mean deeds through a show of being a model of a Christian. How often does it appear that the people, so-called Pharisees, with the help of outer manner of behavior and speech conceal their inner godlessness and brutality? Or may be, the monk had a dual nature, like everyone and his dark side won over the good one. While observing the monk’s behavior throughout the book, it seems that he contradicts himself trying to be a worthy one but in vain. His every action proves his being of a wicked nature. In the following abstract he confesses of his sin of killing Erika and cries out ”Oh! Christ Jesus!’ ‘Holy Father, how you gripe me! I protest, that I meant no harm”’ (Lewis, 338) The device, used by the author is meant to show that the short, abrupt sentences of the monk reflect his inner despair about the situation. He seems to be totally confused with what he has done, still continuous to make harm. And thus, an impression arises, that Ambrosio believes that his deeds would be judged, but going by his words. It shows the lack of faith in the monk. However, this is not the only confession in the novel. Antonia says the following words “…my conduct has been highly blamable” (Lewis, 338-9) So, she accepts her own blame and considers herself to be imprudent. Thus, her conduct is opposite to the monk’s conduct. Antonia, though being an innocent, takes this blame and Ambrosio rejects it, constantly looking for those, on whom he could shift it. To be sure, I did very wrong in being a Spy upon you, that I cannot deny; Flora declared herself fully persuaded, that She had done wrong (Lewis, 339) Going by the abovementioned confessions, one might conclude, that the devices which the characters use are quite different and characters tent to confess either to each other like Antonia and Flora or alone, like Ambrosio does it.

Then, the rejection of the truth of life for one owns sake. It means that the monk failed to understand that he actually has his own will to resist the temptations through which he is going. Being deceived by himself in this matter he starts to act like a villain and proceeds with his terrible acts of a man. Even though the monk knows what is in store for him for the sins he makes, he ca not or just fail to try to resist the temptation, he is facing in the life. Consequently, he is becoming a miserable creature, who constantly complains of his sinful nature and is shifting his own blame to the other people. He is the one, who fails to understand his own responsibility to the acts he is doing in his life. Being blinded by the demonic temptations, he is thinking that he lacks the power of will, and consequently he can not choose himself. That is a common mistake that a person’s life and acts are predetermined. But that is nothing but a suitable excuse for the justification of his deeds.

Tremble, abandoned Hypocrite! Inhuman Parricide! Incestuous Ravisher! Tremble at the extent of your offences! And you it was who thought yourself proof against temptation, absolved from human frailties, and free from error and vice! Is pride then a virtue? Is inhumanity no fault? Know, vain Man! That I long have marked you for my prey: I watched the movements of your heart; I saw that you were virtuous from vanity, not principle, and I seized the fit moment of seduction” (Lewis, 440)

This is a moment, when a daemon accuses Ambrosio of the crimes he did and assures him that there is no way out of the situation. He did not die physically, but his soul is sure to be in the hell. From this point Ambrosio understands that he has done wrong. He attempted to repent before his death, but the Satan prevented him from doing that.

One more thing, which needs to be understood about the novel is the reason why it was so notorious and banned after its second publication. It is the acceptance of the content according to its form. In other words, taking literary what is written. Thus, the text written in the novel is considered to be the author’s point of view and position in the text. But, to be more objective, one should consider the time when the novel was written and the genre of the novel.


Inferring, it is necessary to understand, that “The Monk” is a book, related to a specific time period, mainly to the age of the Enlightenment, which brought its own judgments, assumptions and standards. Thus, the grotesque novel, a new genre in that time, which was consequently banned for being “immoral”, is not necessarily so. Being unbiased, it should be noted that the plot of the novel shouldn’t be taken literary. The characters of the book are using specific devices, from which the reader comes to understand their inner development throughout the book. Even confessions the characters make, whether public or private are showing the state of the characters, their intentions. Thus, the reader comes to understand the wickedness of the main character, the monk and the innocence of the other characters. The book is a truly remarkable piece of literary writing, which shows that everyone is responsible for his deeds and that everyone will inevitably for oneself.

Works Cited

Lewis, Matthew. The Monk. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Questia.

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