Not a habit you want to get into.
The Monk was written in ten weeks by Matthew Lewis at the age of 19 and published in 1796. The story, a racy Gothic romance which gained a certain notoriety, centres around the Capuchin abbot Ambrosio whose sermons in Madrid are highly popular and whose reputation for piety is unequalled. But he is seduced by a girl disguised as a boy and, having decided that girls are better than piety, goes after Antonia by way of deviousness and murder. After raping and murdering her, Ambrosio learns the truth of his origins and escapes the Inquisition only to fall into the clutches of Satan himself from whom he learns the truth of his unknown origin.
Running alongside this are tales about the young blades about town and their amours, which intersect with Ambrosio’s unsavoury activities.
The book seems to have it all – a horny monk previously noted for his piety; an evil mother superior; a bunch of cute girls; murder and attempted murder; demons in disguise; magic and witchcraft; and the Spanish Inquisition (which everyone is expecting). The revelation about Ambrosio’s origin at the end is a neat twist because by that stage you’ve forgotten about that little mystery.
Although I’m sure that the writing is in the style of its age, modern readers are likely to find it verbose and rambling, even although the story would probably appeal to Buffy fans. Some of the episodes, such as Don Raymond’s encounter with bandits on his travels or the story of the Bleeding Nun, appear to contribute little to the main plot and are an indulgence. Lewis also has a penchant for delay. Readers will want to know what Ambrosio’s fate is to be after he is caught rather than the ending to the Raymond-Agnes and Lorenzo-Virginia romances.
Overall, The Monk is a ripping yarn and worth reading if you can get over the hurdle of this particular style of writing.
05.07.13. While Lewis was influenced by and thought highly of Ann Radcliffe’s novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, she disliked The Monk so much that she wrote The Italian as a response to it. In truth, both authors were approaching the genre from different directions. In The Mysteries of Udolpho, the supernatural is implicit, but everything ultimately has a rational explanation.