Matthew Gregory Lewis was the oldest of four children born to Matthew Lewis and Frances Maria Sewell. Both families were quite prominent: Frances was the daughter of Sir Thomas Sewell, master of the rolls, and Matthew, born in Jamaica to a landed family, was deputy-secretary at war. They were an ill-matched pair, the elder Matthew being distant and austere, his wife delighting in gay times and the company of musical and literary people. The marriage failed, and the Lewises separated. While loyal to both parents, young Lewis was his mother’s favorite, and he returned her affection in full.
From an early age, Lewis showed a great love for music and drama. At the age of fifteen, he submitted a farce to the Drury Lane Theatre; it was rejected, but this did nothing to curb his industry. He sent his mother numerous songs and poems and outlined his plan to write a two-volume novel, burlesquing popular novels of sensibility. His father intended for him to have a diplomatic career, and in preparation, Lewis spent school vacations in Europe, where he soon mastered German. Through his father, he received a position as an attaché to the British embassy in Holland. While in The Hague, he completed The Monk. Lewis returned to England, and his novel was published in March, 1796.
Still in his early twenties, “Monk” Lewis became one of the most popular writers in England. In the following few years, this popularity was reinforced by some...
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