Coleridge set himself to reviewing a number of the pivotal texts of early Gothic literature, including Radcliffe's The Castle of Otranto and The Italian, in addition to his review of Lewis's The Monk. He makes no secret of the fact that he views all romances "cheaply," and he commences his...
Coleridge set himself to reviewing a number of the pivotal texts of early Gothic literature, including Radcliffe's The Castle of Otranto and The Italian, in addition to his review of Lewis's The Monk. He makes no secret of the fact that he views all romances "cheaply," and he commences his review of The Monk by stipulating that this sort of literature, with its focus on the supernatural, feeds a certain low desire in society to consume horrible things. Essentially, he describes it in terms similar to those we might apply to an "airport novel" today—Gothic, to Coleridge's mind, is low fiction. However, he does acknowledge that the structure of this novel contains sparks of "no uncommon genius," particularly in the way in which the "under-plot" is connected to the main plot and serves to drive it along. He praises the "variety and impressiveness" of the "incidents" in the novel and the "fervid imagination" of the author.
Here, however, is where his praise stops. For Coleridge, "the errors and defects are more numerous." He goes on to complain that Lewis's writing is often too brutal, to the extent that it is no longer enjoyable, while also being, of course, not a source of moral improvement. He complains that there is little logic to the plot and that nature can be changed according to the author's will. He protests that the behavior of the characters is not in keeping with the way ordinary people would respond, so it is very difficult to understand the motivation, which makes one feel as if the characters are behaving only in deference to the author's command—they are not well-rounded as people.
His gravest censure is saved for the end—Coleridge declares that "The Monk is a romance, which if a parent saw in the hands of a son or daughter, he might reasonably turn pale." The book, to his mind, is quite simply immoral to an extent that could not be redeemed by good writing. He discusses the "harlotry" to be found in the female characters and expresses a concern that continual reading of this sort of fiction could damage young minds.
He does conclude, however, by stating that the poetry contained in the book is often excellent.