Matthew Gregory Lewis Lewis, Matthew Gregory (1775 - 1818) - Essay


(Gothic Literature)


English novelist, playwright, diarist, prose writer, and poet.

Lewis is best known as the author of The Monk (1796), a notorious eighteenth-century novel of horror that is considered one of the greatest examples of English Gothic fiction. Unlike Horace Walpole and Ann Radcliffe, his predecessors in the Gothic school who created genteel novels of suspense, Lewis emphasized the graphic and the sensational. The Monk's blend of overt sexuality and terror created a scandal in England, and its author, branded licentious and perverse, came to be known solely as "Monk" Lewis. While the lurid elements of Lewis's work are still controversial, modern critics acknowledge his talent as an innovative writer of prose and verse who contributed to the Gothic literary tradition as well as the development of the English Romantic movement.


Lewis was born into a wealthy and socially prominent London family. His mother and father separated while he was young, and his attempts to remain on good terms with both parents created an emotional strain that endured throughout his life. Some biographers contend, in fact, that this stress resulted in an emotional immaturity that manifested itself in Lewis's work. Although Lewis displayed a talent for writing at an early age and was encouraged to write by his mother, his father urged him to pursue a diplomatic career instead. After graduation from Oxford in 1794, Lewis became an attaché to the British Embassy in Holland, an assignment he despised. To ease his boredom, Lewis wrote The Monk during a ten week period. The notoriety that accompanied The Monk's publication in 1796 made Lewis a financially successful, if infamous, author. Led by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, contemporary critics labeled Lewis's tale of Ambrosio, the wayward monk, immoral and obscene. Lewis had recently been elected to the House of Commons, and The Monk proved so controversial that, in order to retain his position, he was required to issue an expurgated edition. Shortly therafter, Lewis left politics and began writing drama. In the years before his death, Lewis spent most of his time on the Jamaican estates he had inherited, which were maintained by slaves. By all accounts, Lewis was a compassionate man who advocated the abolition of slavery and retained his plantations solely at the request of his slaves, who feared the financial responsibility of freedom. During his final trip to Jamaica, Lewis tried desperately to improve the living conditions of his slaves. Despite his efforts, he was able to implement little change and, despondent, decided to return home. By the time Lewis boarded a ship for England, he had already developed yellow fever. He died several days later. His crew prepared to bury him at sea, but as they lowered the casket, its shroud caught in the wind and the coffin sailed slowly back to Jamaica.


The Monk's protagonist, Ambrosio, who is a monk as well as a foundling of mysterious past and parentage, has risen to the position of abbot of the Capuchins, becoming a well-respected figure in medieval Madrid, revered by the populace. At the monastery, a young novitiate named Rosario approaches Ambrosio and reveals that he is actually a woman named Matilda de Villanges, whose love for Ambrosio has led her to disguise herself in order to be nearer to him. The two consummate a sexual relationship, though Ambrosio later feels remorse and disgust for his actions. After his interlude with Matilda, while visiting the nearby convent of St. Clare, Ambrosio discovers that Agnes, a nun, desires to elope with her lover, Don Raymond de las Cisternas. The monk discloses this information to Mother St. Agatha, prioress of the convent, who punishes Agnes by imprisoning her in a dungeon beneath the convent. Later, Ambrosio travels to the house of the ailing Donna Elvira Dalfa and there falls in love with her young daughter, Antonia. With the aid of Matilda and her knowledge of black magic, the monk summons a demon so that he might violate the girl. Ambrosio returns to Donna Elvira's house, kills her, and abducts Antonia, now unconscious through the action of a magical potion. In the meantime, Agnes's brother, Lorenzo, accuses Mother St. Agatha of murdering his sister and wins a warrant for her arrest. An angry mob forms in response to the accusation, and the crowd razes the convent, murdering the prioress and many innocent nuns. Amid the chaos, Lorenzo enters the convent grounds in search of his sister. When he finds her she is close to death and clutching the decaying body of her dead child. Hearing the screams of a young girl nearby, Lorenzo discovers Antonia's ravished and stabbed body and observes her attacker, Ambrosio, as he flees; later he notifies the Inquisition of Ambrosio's crimes. Ordered to be burned at the stake, Ambrosio, at the urgings of Matilda, makes a pact with Satan, exchanging his soul for freedom. The devil appears and saves him from the flames of the Inquisition, only to reveal that in killing Donna Elvira and raping Antonia, he has murdered his own mother and committed incest with his sister. The story ends as the monk's forfeit soul is cast into hell.

Scholars observe that the thematic character of The Monk departs somewhat from that of the traditional Gothic novel. While it favors the evocation of grotesque horror rather than the rendering of a sentimental theme of justice based upon divine Providence, Lewis's novel nevertheless presents a critique of human vice and explores the conflict between religion and human sexuality. This conflict is dramatized in the character of Ambrosio through the juxtaposition of the monk's pride and destructive sexual appetite with the innocent virtue of Antonia and the forthrightness of Lorenzo. Many commentators note, however, that the dullness of the novel's virtuous characters fails to match the depth and complexity of Ambrosio and Matilda, and instead locate evidence of the novel's primary theme in the psychological exploration of its fallen protagonist and his accomplice. Likewise, many have observed that Matilda's strong will and intelligence make her far more compelling than her counterpart Antonia, despite her manipulative behavior and demonic nature. Others have commented on Lewis's attempts to establish an unsettling parallel between the violence of the riotous mob in his novel and that of the French Revolution, or on his deft integration of legends and folk tales, such as those of the Bleeding Nun and the Wandering Jew, in order to illicit terror and add universal appeal to his story.

Of Lewis's plays, the best known is The Castle Spectre (1797), a Gothic production that met the current demand for melodrama, spectacle, and two-dimensional characterization. Although it helped establish Lewis as one of the era's most popular playwrights, The Castle Spectre is largely overlooked by modern critics. In 1801, Lewis published Tales of Wonder, a collection of poems dealing with the supernatural that also includes works by Sir Walter Scott and Robert Southey. Lewis also composed poetry that he included in his plays and later published, as well as two novels that never enjoyed the success or notoriety of The Monk. He ceased writing fiction in 1812, when his father died and left him a great deal of money. Lewis's posthumously-published Journal of a West India Proprietor, Kept during a Residence in the Island of Jamaica (1834) recounts his voyages to Jamaica, inspections of the plantations, and plans for change. Written in lively prose, the Journal reveals Lewis as a sensitive and perceptive observer of the natural world. Though it is seldom read today, critics who have studied the work consider it one of Lewis's greatest achievements.


With the exception of the Journal, Lewis's works were ignored from the time of his death until the twentieth century, when critics began to recognize Lewis's influence on the Romantic movement. When it was first published, The Monk created a considerable stir and earned Lewis instant fame, even infamy, as its author. Labeled obscene by a cast of critics, including Coleridge—who acknowledged that despite its immorality the novel was the "offspring of no common genius"—it was nevertheless extremely popular, and went through five editions before the end of the century. The controversy that the first edition sparked prompted Lewis to expurgate certain passages from these later printings, though scholars now agree that his changes were largely superficial. Early critics emphasized the lewdness and irreligion of the work, especially of a scene in which Antonia reads an edited version of the Bible given to her by her mother, and maintained that The Monk was a product of the revolutionary atmosphere of the late eighteenth century. In the twentieth century critics reevaluated the influence of the work on the writers of the Romantic movement. Modern scholars have since observed that The Monk represents a successful synthesis of the techniques and materials used by Gothic horror writers, leading many to take a renewed interest in the work. Recent critics have applied the tools of psychological criticism to The Monk, examining its sexual imagery and applying biographical information about Lewis's childhood development and psyche to understanding the novel. Later studies have probed the conflict between sexuality and religion and the juxtaposition of violence and passion within the novel. Angela Wright traces parallels between The Monk and the Marquis de Sade's novel Justine, noting that the two works influenced one another in significant ways, including in their narrative technique and portrayal of heroines. Montague Summers asserted that Lewis "introduced new and essential features both by his prose works, his verse and his dramas into the Gothic novel, upon which he exercised so tremendous, one might almost say so illimitable, an influence" and declared that "the vast imaginative force derived from Lewis which energized and inspired numerical novels and impelled the incidence of romance in particular directions,… [can] very clearly be related to and are in effect resultant from the genius, often morbid and wayward, yet ever vital and compelling, of Matthew Gregory Lewis."

Principal Works

(Gothic Literature)

The Monk: A Romance. 3 vols. (novel) 1796
Village Virtues: A Dramatic Satire. In Two Parts (play) 1796
The Castle Spectre: A Drama. In Five Acts (play) 1797
The Twins; or, Is It He, or His Brother? A Farce in Two Acts (play) 1799
The East Indian: A Comedy. In Five Acts (play) 1800
Adelmorn, the Outlaw: A Romantic Drama, in Three Acts (play) 1801
Tales of Wonder; Written and Collected by M. G. Lewis. 2 vols. [with Sir Walter Scott and Robert Southey] (poetry) 1801
Alfonso, King of Castile: A Tragedy, in Five Acts (play) 1802
The Captive: A Scene in a Private Mad-House (play) 1803
Rugantino; or, The Bravo of...

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Matthew Gregory Lewis (Poem Date 1796)

(Gothic Literature)

SOURCE: Lewis, Matthew Gregory. "Preface." In The Monk: A Romance. 1796. Third edition, pp. iii-v. London: J. Bell, 1797.

In the following poem, a preface to his well-known novel first published in 1796, Lewis addresses his work, minimizing both its merit and his own talent.

Imitation of Horace, Ep. 20.—B. 1.

Methinks, Oh! vain ill-judging book,
I see thee cast a wishful look,
Where reputations won and lost are
In famous row called Paternoster.
Incensed to find your precious olio
Buried in unexplored...

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Matthew Gregory Lewis (Essay Date 1798)

(Gothic Literature)

SOURCE: Lewis, Matthew Gregory. "To the Reader." In The Castle Spectre: A Drama. In Five Acts, pp. 100-03. London: J. Bell, 1798.

In the following essay, Lewis addresses readers of The Castle Spectre, informing them of the inspirations for his narrative and characters, and defending his work against negative criticism.

Many erroneous assertions have been made respecting this Drama; some, that the language was originally extremely licentious; others, that the sentiments were violently democratic; and others again, that if Mr. Sheridan had not advised me to content myself with a single Spectre, I meant to have exhibited a...

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General Commentary

(Gothic Literature)

SOURCE: Summers, Montague. "Matthew Gregory Lewis." In The Gothic Quest: A History of the Gothic Novel. 1938. Reprint edition, pp. 202-38. New York: Russell & Russell, 1964.

In the following excerpt from his influential study of Gothic literature first published in 1938, Summers surveys Lewis's fictional and dramatic works and asserts that Lewis had tremendous influence upon other authors who wrote in the Gothic tradition.

He was a child, and a spoiled child, but a child of high imagination…. He had the finest ear for the rhythm of verse I ever heard—finer than Byron's…. He was one of the kindest and best creatures that ever...

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Title Commentary

(Gothic Literature)


SOURCE: Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "A review of The Monk." The Critical Review 19 (February 1797): 194-200.

In the following excerpt from a review of The Monk, Coleridge acknowledges Lewis's genius but objects to what he perceives as The Monk's indecency, immorality, and irreligious air.

[Cheaply] as we estimate romances in general, we acknowledge, [The Monk: a Romance], the offspring of no common genius…. Ambrosio, a monk, surnamed the Man of Holiness, proud of his own undeviating rectitude, and severe to the faults of others, is successfully assailed by the tempter of mankind, and seduced to the perpetration of rape and murder, and finally precipitated into a contract in which he consigns his soul to everlasting perdition.

The larger part of the three volumes is occupied by the underplot, which, however, is skilfully and closely connected with the main story, and is subservient to its development. The tale of the bleeding nun is truly terrific; and we could not easily recollect a bolder or more happy conception than that of the burning cross on the forehead of the wandering Jew…. But the character of Matilda, the chief agent in the seduction of Antonio, appears to us to be the author's master-piece. It is, indeed, exquisitely imagined, and as exquisitely supported. The whole work is distinguished by the variety and impressiveness of its incidents; and the author every-where discovers an imagination rich, powerful, and fervid. Such are the excellencies;—the errors and defects are more numerous, and (we are sorry to add) of greater importance.

All events are levelled into one common mass, and become almost equally probable, where the order of nature may be changed whenever the author's purposes demand it. No address is requisite to the accomplishment of any design; and no pleasure therefore can be received from the perception of difficulty surmounted. The writer may make us wonder, but be cannot surprise us. For the same reasons a romance is incapable of exemplifying a moral truth…. As far, therefore, as the story is concerned, the praise which a romance can claim, is simply that of having given pleasure during its perusal; and so many are the calamities of life, that he who has done this, has not written uselessly. The children of sickness and of solitude shall thank him.—To this praise, however, our author has not entitled himself. The sufferings which he describes are so frightful and intolerable, that we break with abruptness from the delusion, and indignantly suspect the man of a species of brutality, who could find a pleasure in wantonly imagining them; and the abominations which he pourtrays with no hurrying pencil, are such as the observation of character by no means demanded, such as 'no observation of character can justify, because no good man would willingly suffer them to pass, however transiently, through his own mind.' The merit of a novelist is in proportion (not simply to the effect, but) to the pleasurable effect which he produces. Situations of torment, and images of naked horror, are easily conceived; and a writer in whose works they abound, deserves our gratitude almost equally with him who should drag us by way of sport through a military hospital, or force us to sit at the dissecting-table of a natural philosopher…. Figures that shock the imagination, and narratives that mangle the feelings, rarely discover genius, and always betray a low and vulgar taste. Nor has our author indicated less ignorance of the human heart in the management of the principal character. The wisdom and goodness of providence have ordered that the tendency of vicious actions to deprave the heart of the perpetrator, should diminish in proportion to the greatness of his temptations. Now, in addition to constitutional warmth and irresistible opportunity, the monk is impelled to incontinence by friendship, by compassion, by gratitude, by all that is amiable, and all that is estimable; yet in a few weeks after his first frailty, the man who had been described as possessing much general humanity, a keen and vigorous understanding with habits of the most exalted piety, degenerates into an uglier fiend than the gloomy imagination of Danté would have ventured to picture. Again, the monk is described as feeling and acting under the influence of an appetite which could not co-exist with his other emotions. The romance-writer possesses an unlimited power over situations; but he must scrupulously make his characters act in congruity with them. Let him work physical wonders only, and we will be content to dream with him for a while; but the first moral miracle which he attempts, he disgusts and awakens us. Thus our judgment remains unoffended, when, announced by thunders and earthquakes, the spirit appears to Ambrosio involved in blue fires that increase the cold of the cavern; and we acquiesce in the power of the silver myrtle which made gates and doors fly open at its touch, and charmed every eye into sleep. But when a mortal, fresh from the impression of that terrible appearance, and in the act of evincing for the first time the witching force of this myrtle is represented as being at the same moment agitated by so fleeting an appetite as that of lust, our own feelings convince us that this is not improbable, but impossible; not preternatural, but contrary to nature. The extent of the powers that may exist, we can never ascertain; and therefore we feel no great difficulty in yielding a temporary belief to any, the strangest, situation of things. But that situation once conceived, how beings like ourselves would feel and act in it, our own feelings sufficiently instruct us; and we instantly reject the clumsy fiction that does not harmonise with them. These are the two principal mistakes in judgment, which the author has fallen into; but we cannot wholly pass over the frequent incongruity of his style with his subjects. It is gaudy where it should have been severely simple; and too often the mind is offended by phrases the most trite and colloquial, when it demands and had expected a sterness and solemnity of diction.

A more grievous fault remains,—a fault for which no literary excellence can atone,—a fault which all other excellence does but aggravate, as adding subtlety to a poison by the elegance of its preparation. Mildness of censure would here be criminally misplaced, and silence would make us accomplices. Not without reluctance then, but in full conviction that we are performing a duty, we declare it to be our opinion, 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 temptations of Ambrosio are described with a libidinous minuteness, which, we sincerely hope, will receive its best and only adequate censure from the offended conscience of the author himself. The shameless harlotry of Matilda, and the trembling innocence of Antonia, are seized with equal avidity, as vehicles of the most voluptuous images; and though the tale is indeed a tale of horror, yet the most painful impression which the work left on our minds was that of great acquirements and splendid genius employed to furnish a mormo for children, a poison for youth, and a provocative for the debauchee. Tales of enchantments and witchcraft can never be useful: our author has contrived to make them pernicious, by blending, with an irreverent negligence, all that is most awfully true in religion with all that is most ridiculously absurd in superstition. He takes frequent occasion, indeed, to manifest his sovereign contempt for the latter, both in his own person, and (most incongruously) in that of his principal characters; and that his respect for the former is not excessive, we are forced to conclude from the treatment which its inspired writings receive from him….

If it be possible that the author of these blasphemies is a Christian, should he not have reflected that the only passage in the scriptures [Ezekiel, Chap. xxiii], which could give a shadow of plausiblity to the weakest of these expressions, is represented as being spoken by the Almighty himself? But if he be an infidel, he has acted consistently enough with that character, in his endeavours first to inflame the fleshly appetites, and then to pour contempt on the only book which would be adequate to the task of recalming them. We believe it not absolutely impossible that a mind may be so deeply depraved by the habit of reading lewd and voluptuous tales, as to use even the Bible in conjuring up the spirit of uncleanness. The most innocent expressions might become the first link in the chain of association, when a man's soul had been so poisoned; and we believe it not absolutely impossible that he might extract pollution from the word of purity and, in a literal sense, turn the grace of God into wantonness.

We have been induced to pay particular attention to this work from the unusual success which it has experienced. It certainly possesses much real merit, in addition to its meretricious attractions. Nor must it be forgotten that the author is a man of rank and fortune.—Yes! the author of The Monk signs himself a LEGISLATOR!—We stare and tremble.

The poetry interspersed through the volumes is, in general, far above mediocrity.


SOURCE: A Friend to Genius. "An Apology for The Monk." The Monthly Mirror 3 (April 1797): 210-15.

In the following essay, the psuedonymous critic maintains that The Monk advocates virtue, rather than—as many reviewers have contended—vice.

It is with no inconsiderable pain that I have remarked the numerous attacks which have been made by the host of critics on the ingenious author of The Monk, for the supposed vicious tendency of that excellent romance. The author is universally allowed to be endowed with nature's best gift, genius, and in the work before us is generally acknowledged to discover throughout an imagination, rich, powerful, and fervid. This able writer is, however, attacked on a point which, I am sure, must make him feel little satisfaction in the applause which his genius commands. It is asserted by almost all the critics who have sat in judgment on this admirable performance, that its tendency is to deprave the heart, to vitiate the understanding, and to enlist the passions in the cause of vice. Differing as I do with these censors, as to this and other objections, I wish, through the medium of your impartial publication, to rescue his production from this undeserved obloquy. I have not the pleasure of Mr. Lewis's acquaintance, and I know not how this apology may be received on his part, but the defence of genius is the common cause of all men of the least pretensions to literature; and every person who can enjoy works of taste, has the right of rescuing them from unmerited attacks. I should, as little as the critics, wish to be the apologist of vice, or the defender of lasciviousness; but justice requires that error, and error of such magnitude, as it regards Mr. Lewis's character, should be detected and exposed.

The error of the principal objection to this romance, viz. that of its vicious tendency, appears to me entirely to arise from inaccuracy of observation of the author's work, of the human heart, and of the meaning of the word tendency. It is not a temporary effect, produced upon the imagination or the passions, by particular passages, which can fairly be cited as the tendency of the work; we must examine what are the probable general results from the whole, and not judge from these partial and fleeting effects.

In this view, I maintain, this beautiful romance is well calculated to support the cause of virtue, and to teach her lessons to man. I am not old enough to have my heart steeled against the effects of the strongest of the human passions, nor young enough to riot in lascivious description, or wanton in the regions of obscene imagery. I can feel as disgusted as the critics with such defects; but I entreat these grey bearded gentleman to consider again whether there are any such images in the work before us. The lessons of virtue which I see in the Monk, are striking and impressive. In the character of Ambrosio we see a man delineated of strong passions, which have been for a long period subdued by as strong resolution; of a natural disposition to virtue, but, like all other men, with some portion of vice, which has been fostered by the situation into which his fate had thrown him; he is haughty, vindictive, and austere. The greatest error of which he is guilty, is too great a confidence in his own virtue, too great a reliance on his own hatred of vice. We are taught by his conduct that this unbounded confidence, by blinding the mind as to the real consequences which result, lays the foundation for vice, and opens an easy road to great excesses. We have again a very forcible illustration in Ambrosio, a man of the strongest understanding and the highest powers of reason, of the danger of receding even in the least from the path of virtue, or giving way in the slightest degree to the insidious approaches of vice. C'est te premier pas qui coute, is a truth long established, and is well illustrated in the present instance. We see and feel strongly this danger, and the lesson is the more forcible, in proportion to the strength of understanding which is shown in the Monk. We learn that when once a man ventures into the pool of vice, that he plunges deeper and deeper till he is completely overwhelmed. These are striking and impressive lessons.

There are many other moral lessons which are inculcated by the work in the strongest manner; the tendency, therefore, i. e. the general effect likely to result, is favourable to the cause of virtue and morality. We are however told, that "the temptations of Ambrosio are described with a libidinous minuteness, which leaves the painful impression of great acquirements and splendid genius, employed to furnish poison for youth, and a provocative for the debauchee." [Critical Review, for February, 1797.] If this were the case, I must give up my author in part, though still the tendency of the whole would be good. But I deny the fact. I request that the character and circumstances of Ambrosio may be seriously considered. To a man of strong understanding, austerity of manners, and great self command, strong temptations must be offered. If the author had made the Monk sink under a slight temptation, he would have offended against the laws of probability, and shocked the reason of his readers. I ask if it be possible to describe such temptations as were calculated to seduce such a man, with greater delicacy and decorum than our author has done: and I will take for example the strongest instances—the conclusion of chapter 2. vol. I p. 253 of vol. 2. and his attack on Antonia in p. 36 and 37 of vol. 3. The answer, I am persuaded, must be—No! Highly coloured as these passages are, I maintain that no heart but one already depraved, could rise from them, if the preceding part of the work had been perused, with the least impurity. The mind that could draw food for vicious appetites from this work, must have made no little progress in the paths of profligacy and debauchery; so strong are the entrenchments erected before the heart, by the general tendency, of the work.

The previous part is calculated to prevent all the evil which may arise from warmth of description, by the interest we take in observing the gradual progress of vice in Ambrosio's bosom, and the hatred we of course must feel for this insiduous adversary. The work can be read only by three descriptions of persons; either those whose minds, by habitual vice, are prepared to turn every the least hint to the purposes of food for their depraved appetites, or as incitements to their dormant desires, which require stimulants; or those who are wavering between vice and virtue, whose minds may be led to either, by interesting their passions strongly for one or the other; or else, young, innocent, and undepraved persons. The first deserve not notice: purity itself would be poison to their hearts, and the modestest allusion would excite depraved ideas. The passions of the second will be, I contend, excited more strongly to virtue than to vice by The Monk, because the horrors consequent on his vicious conduct are so strongly pourtrayed, as to destroy the momentary effect, if any were produced, of the passages which are rather warm in description. The last, from the very supposition of their being yet innocent and unpolluted, and in consequence ignorant, can not have improper ideas excited, or their passions roused to vice; as, in the first place, they will not be able to understand as much as our knowing critics, nor can the confused notions of felicity which may be excited destroy the purity of their minds, or the effect of the moral lessons inculcated. The writer of this paper felt not a single loose idea excited by the warmest passages, so perfectly had he imbibed the moral lessons which the author has so forcibly brought forward.

The critics themselves seem aware of this tendency of the work, and therefore endeavour to deprive the author of the defence, by roundly asserting that "a romance is incapable of exemplifying moral truth; and that he who could rise superior to all earthly temptation, and whom the strength of the spiritual world alone would be adequate to overwhelm, might reasonably be proud, and would fall with glory" As applied to The Monk, there are two errors in this assertion. The reader of this romance has no reason to imagine, till the greater part of the mischief has been done, that any but earthly temptations are used against the hero. The fall of Ambrosio is precisely that which would happen to any man of a similar character, assailed as he was by the fascinating arts of a woman, skilled in exciting the strongest passions, and endowed with the most attractive charms. We see the gradual progress she makes in undermining his virtue by merely human means. His feelings, his gratitude, and finally the strong desires of human nature are all combined to ensure his fall. But still the temptations appear to be no more than human. We see where a man of truly virtuous principles would have commenced resistance; we observe and lament his first deviation from the path of virtue; and cannot withhold our wishes that he may remain firm when the first disposition to yield manifests itself. Matilda appears to be merely a woman, though a woman of the greatest charms, and of an extraordinary character; but still there is nothing improbable or unnatural in the means of temptation, nothing that a man of a strong mind and pure virtue would not have resisted. The lesson therefore is taught and deeply imbibed before the discovery of supernatural agency is made, and that discovery does not and cannot eradicate the morality before inculcated.

Nor is it true in general that moral truth cannot be conveyed in romance. The general sense of mankind is against the critics in this assertion. From the earliest ages fiction, and incredible fiction, has been thought a proper vehicle for moral instruction, from the fables of Æsop, to the tales, allegories, and visions of modern days. The religion itself which these gentlemen profess inculcates the notion that Lucifer is the author of all our vicious propensities, and that he is the continual seducer of man. An allegorical representation of this being visibly interfering is no more therefore than adopting popular belief, and turning it to the purposes of instruction. It is no more improbable, on the notion of this great tempter, that a man should yield to his agency, when he himself assumes the human figure, than when he is supposed, as he is, to inhabit the bodies of all the vicious, and supply the crafty and artful with the means of operating on inferior minds. We do not the less blame Eve, because we are told that she yielded to the temptation of the serpent.

As to the minor objections made to the conduct of parts of the story, and defects of style and description, I feel not myself called on to defend, my object not being to establish the literary but moral excellence of the work. The only remaining objection which I shall attempt to answer is that "our author has contrived to make his romance pernicious, by blending, with an irreverent negligence, all that is most awfully true in religion, with all that is most ridiculously absurd in superstition. He takes frequent occasion, indeed, to manifest his sovereign contempt for the latter, both in his own person and in that of his principal characters; and that his respect for the former is not excessive we are forced to conclude from the treatment which its inspired writers receive from him."

In support of this observation we have a garbled passage quoted by the critics, in which the author has noticed with too much warmth, we must confess, some of the passages of the bible, which are undoubtedly improper for the eye of a young female. It is not fair to quote this passage without adding the eulogiums which the author has passed on the morality of the sacred writings, both in that passage and others in the work, Whether the author be or be not a Christian, is not the inquiry, but whether there be any foundation for the observation made on the indecency of some parts of our religious code; this the critics are obliged to allow is the case in one instance, viz. Ezekiel chap. 23. There are also other examples which must be in the eye of every man who has react these writings with attention. The indiscriminate perusal of such passages as occur, in which every thing is called by its vulgar name, in which the most luxuriant images are described, as in Solomon's Song, must certainly be improper for young females. So fully aware were the Jews of this truth, that they prohibited the reading of Solomon's Song, till a certain age, when the passions are in subjection. The warmth of expression is too great, but we may pardon this, since we see a desire of preventing the mischievous effects of even the most generally excellent productions.—The author, so far from deserving to be stigmatized as an enemy to Christianity, appears to me to be acting as one of its best friends, when he endeavours to prevent the mischief which may ensue from mixing what may be improper for young minds, with the rest of a work so generally excellent in its morality, so pure in its doctrines. The mischief which might be produced would be the greater, because of the reverence with which young persons are generally, taught to regard the sacred writings. The impressions of such images as are blamed, would be the more deeply engraven on the mind, as they believe that nothing can be learned there but purity and innocence. I should have thought that these critics might have over-looked an error into which they themselves have fallen to a still greater excess: for they cannot allow the moral tendency of the romance to plead the pardon of two or three passages, which appear to them to be too luxuriant, and too replete with wanton imagery.

I have thus, Sir, endeavoured to shew that the attacks made on Mr. Lewis are unfounded, and that when the critic stares and trembles to find the author of The Monk a legislator, his horror is not reasonable; and that with propriety we may apply to those men who can drink vice at the fountain of the Monk, the expression of this very critic: "The most innocent expressions may become the first link in the chain of association, when a man's soul has been poisoned and depraved by the habit of reading lewd and voluptuous tales; and we believe it not absolutely impossible that he might extract pollution from the word of purity, and turn the grace of God into wantonness."

I hope I have succeeded in showing, that "the author has not endeavoured to inflame the fleshly appetites, and then to pour contempt on the only book which would be adequate to the task of reclaiming them." If I have not failed in this object, I shall feel a satisfaction in having employed a leisure horror in a task so delightful as rescuing from disgrace, in my opinion unmerited, a man of such talents, taste, and brilliancy of imagination, as the author of The Monk. I hope this attempt will not be displeasing to him who is the most concerned, nor fail of its effect on the public mind. My motives are, however, pure; I know I am as great an enemy to licentiousness as the critics them selves, and I trust I have shewn thyself



SOURCE: A review of The Monk. The Monthly Review 23 (August 1797): 451.

In the following review, the critic discusses the literary sources for The Monk and adds that obscenity "pervades and deforms the whole organization of this novel."

[The Monk] has a double plot. The outline of the monk Ambrosio's story was suggested by that of the Santon Barsisa, in the Guardian: the form of temptation is borrowed from the Devil in Love of Cazotte; and the catastrophe is taken from the Sorcerer. The adventures of Raymond and Agnes are less obviously imitations; yet the forest-scene near Strasburgh brings to mind an incident in Smollet's Ferdinand Count Fathom: the bleeding Nun is described by the author as a popular tale of the Germans; and the convent-prison resembles the inflictions of Mrs. Radcliffe. This may be called plagiarism; yet it deserves some praise. The great art of writing consists in selecting what is most stimulant from the works of our predecessors, and in uniting the gathered beauties in a new whole, more interesting than the tributary models. This is the essential process of the imagination, and excellence is no otherwise attained. All invention is but new combination. To invent well is to combine the impressive.

Of the poetry, we have been best pleased with the Water-Ring, and with Alonzo the brave and the fair Imogene, the latter of which is written in a manner much resembling and little inferior to the Lenardo and Blandine of Bürger. A vein of obscenity, however, pervades and deforms the whole organization of this novel, which must ever blast, in a moral view, the fair fame that, in point of ability, it would have gained for the author; and which renders the work totally unfit for general circulation.


SOURCE: Hennelly, Jr., Mark M. "The Monk's Gothic Bosh and Bosch's Gothic Monks." Comparative Literature Studies 24, no. 2 (1987): 146-64.

In the following essay, Hennelly interprets the artistic significance and utility of the "Gothic machinery" in The Monk by comparing Lewis's use of these devices to that of painter Hieronymous Bosch, noting similarities between the two and commenting on the possible sources for their works.

    Oh! wonder-working Lewis! monk, or bard,
    Who fain wouldst make Parnassus a churchyard!
    Lo! wreaths of yew, not laurel, bind thy brow,
    Thy muse a sprite, Apollo's sexton thou!

    Whether on ancient tombs thou tak'st thy stand,
    By gibb'ring spectres hailed, thy kindred band;
    Or tracest chaste descriptions on thy page,
    To please the females of our modest age;
    All hail, M.P.! from whose infernal brain
    Thin-sheeted phantoms glide, a grisly train,
    At whose command 'grim women' throng in crowds,
    And kings of fire, of water, and of clouds,
    With 'small gray men,' 'wild yagers,' and what not,
    To crown with honour thee and Walter Scott;
    Again all hail! if tales like thine may please,
    St. Luke alone can vanquish the disease,
    Even Satan's self with thee might dread to dwell,
    And in thy skull discern a deeper hell.
      Lord Byron, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers,
                              1809 (117, ll. 265-82)

Following the lead of Byron's early lampoon of The Monk (1896), criticism has remained generally unkind to what it considers the novel's Gothic bosh or absurd machinery. In fact, Nina da Vinci Nichols's recent appraisal concludes that the "mechanical grotesqueries" (200) in The Monk "hold no symbolic value, evoke no mystery, intimate no hidden identity" (204), and thus the novel clearly does "not integrate [its machinery] with the theme" (187).1 And yet Lewis's preoccupation with voyeurism and penetrating prefabricated veils of repression and hyprocrisy suggests that the "gibb'ring spectres" lurking in his Gothic machine may have a significant, if ambivalent, tale to tell. And this tale begins in the novel's introit or first chapter, which offers a series of suggestive vignettes that unfold like some surreal triptych in the Madrid Cathedral.

The "crowds" that Byron derides initially flock to the Cathedral, betraying secular and especially sexual rather than spiritual motives, since they treat the service as if it were a "play" performance and since "the women came to show themselves, the men to see the women" (35).2 This lonely crowd also confuses the "true devotion" of religious love with the indoctrinated idolatry of violent power and with fear because "superstition reigns with despotic sway … in Madrid" (35). And the crowd's overriding "curiosity" to see the celebrated Monk Ambrosio reflects the obsessive sin of the "prying eye" (109) whose exposed voyeurism more particularly reveals the related concerns of Byron's "deeper hell" and da Vinci Nichols's "hidden identity." For instance, Antonia's natural "features were hidden" so scrupulously "by a thick veil," and "her bosom was [so] carefully veiled" that Lorenzo is artificially aroused and begs to be allowed "to remove the gauze" from her face (37-39). Since Lorenzo is "our hero" (55), the reader presumably is also guilty of complicity in his voyeurism and his compulsion to strip Antonia, although, ambiguously, Antonia's false modesty needs to be stripped away to reveal her natural self. Similarly, when Agnes "took the veil" to become a nun, she symbolizes her unnatural "seclusion from the world" and reinforces her mother's crime of "immuring so charming a girl within the walls of a cloister" (51).3

Next, Lorenzo's portentous dream in "the gothic obscurity of the church" reveals the shared extent of his own and Ambrosio's ambivalent desires as his marriage ceremony with Antonia, conducted by the Monk, is abortively interrupted by a savage ravisher. Thus, "half-hoping, half-fearing," Lorenzo passively watches as his Nemesis enacts the dreamer's about-to-be sanctified lust and prefigures Ambrosio's own later rape of Antonia, his unknown sister. At the same time, the schizoid vertical polarities of the Cathedral collapse, and the ravisher falls through the floor to the fiery vaults foretold in Ambrosio's sermon, while, naked, Antonia ascends through the "vaulted roof" toward a heavenly choir (52-54). Not having learned the severity of his own repressed and then projected desires, Lorenzo indulges in yet more voyeurism when minutes later he and Don Christoval agree to return to the Cathedral that night and secretly spy on the young nuns who must "take off their veils" before confession. "The gaze of such impure eyes" is ultimately punished when Lorenzo finds himself leering at his own unveiled sister, who is secretly receiving a love letter. At this point, Don Christoval cries, "What, your sister? Diavolo! Then somebody, I suppose, will have to pay for our peeping" (55-56), thus previewing the ambiguous value of symbolic stripteases of both body and soul throughout the novel.

The point of recounting these episodes from Chapter One is not only to remark that such a preoccupation with cloistered innocence, repressed sexuality, violent rebellion, and an enforced ambiguity between sacred and profane values recurs throughout The Monk, but also to emphasize that, contrary to prevalent criticism, the novel offers an integrated or at least repeated coordination of its Gothic machinery, especially the sense of place or space, and its Gothic visions. But for a fuller understanding of this coordination, we must ask why Lewis chose a Madrid cathedral and its adjoining "burial ground common" (228) to both the Capuchin monastery and the convent of St. Clare as the primary symbolic machines for transmitting his Gothic visions. Perhaps it was because Spanish Gothic cathedrals, partially due to the prevalent Moorish influence, are uniquely known for "their rejas or wrought iron screens," which seem to be part of the same tradition as the Hispanic love of cloaks and fans (Sitwell 139), all of which promote an atmosphere of veiled, partial concealment. It is certainly also true that, as with the Church of San Lorenzo opening Ann Radcliffe's The Italian (itself clearly a critical response to The Monk), the Latin flavoring here helps season the novel's exposé of repressed fiery passion. Moreover, Spain is the native home of the Inquisition so dear to Lewis and other Gothicists; in fact, in Melmoth the Wanderer "all Spain is but one great monastery" (143) policed by the Inquisition. And yet in 1796, there was no Gothic cathedral in Madrid, only the Jesuit church of San Isidro el Real, which John Harvey describes as "a grim monument of the severest classicism" whose presence "startlingly suggests the portals of a prison" (198-201). But, of course, Lewis may simply have appropriated this relevant suggestion of repression and then altered it to suit his own Gothic specifications.

There may, however, be yet another possible reason for his choice of Madrid, one revealed in G. B. Street's chatty 1914 account of Gothic Architecture in Spain, namely, that although there are really "no old churches," still "there is one great attraction to me in Madrid, and only one—the Picture Gallery" (1:279), or Museo del Prado, the famous home of the more enigmatic canvases of Hieronymous Bosch, which Philip II brought to Madrid from the Netherlands around 1560. Philip hung twelve in his palace and treasury and twelve in his hunting lodge at El Prado. In 1574 the nine most significant were secretly "hidden away in his monastery stronghold, the Escorial" (Fraenger 8). Since that time, the name of Bosch and the Madrid repositories have become nearly synonymous. And the bizarre Gothic machinery in these works seems so close to the symbolic machinery in Lewis's novel that a survey of Bosch and the relevance of what Carl Justi calls "the most important of his works" (48)—his paintings of The Table of Wisdom (c. 1475–85), The Hay Wain (c. 1485–90), The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1485–1505), and The Temptation of Saint Anthony (c. 1505–16)—should place The Monk's Gothic bosh in the proper clarifying context of Bosch's Gothic monks.4 Of course, unless fresh evidence is uncovered, it will always remain debatable whether or not Lewis actually studied Bosch's canvases and exorcised their eerie spirit in The Monk. It does seem clear, however, that the haunting correspondences between the work of the painter and the novelist at the least reveal them to be "kindred spirits."

Bosch spent his entire life in his birthplace (which also gave him his name), the Dutch city of 's-Hertogenbosch, close to what is now the border of Belgium. This is significant because, besides Lewis's journeys to the continent in 1791 and 1792, which may well have introduced him to the art and architecture of Madrid, he spent much of 1794 at The Hague in the Netherlands serving as a staff member of the British embassy, but also writing The Monk (Irwin 18-22). And this locale too would have provided him with access to other examples of Bosch's art which were collected in the Low Countries at sites like The Hague, Rotterdam, and Brussels. Significantly, Bosch's visual perspective itself had been nurtured by the great Gothic Cathedral of St. John in his native town, and the curious gargoyles sitting on its roof but-tresses perhaps turn up even more transmogrified in his own monastic and satanic grotesques (Gibson 14-16). In fact, like Lewis, Bosch too is often regarded as merely a faiseur de diables, and both were probably influenced by the notorious Malleus Maleficarum, or Witches' Hammer (1494), which schematically outlines the relationship between Satan and succubi, like Matilda, who use their sexual charms to debase and then damn ascetics. Thus, and again prefiguring Lewis, Bosch's work repeatedly excoriates the veiled evils of monastic life, particularly the lust of monks and the hypocritical virginity of nuns, perhaps recalling Saint Paul's second letter to Timothy in which he decries the doomed city of man as a Vanity Fair where clerics are "lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof…. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts" (II Tim. 3:4-4, Fraenger 20).

It is further relevant that in 1947 Wilhelm Fraenger published a revolutionary study of Bosch's work that drastically revises the older view of him as primarily a painter of devotional altar pieces, but sees him rather as a practising member of the Adamites or Brethren of the Free Spirits, who allegedly indulged in religious rituals of free love, reflecting their desire to return to a state of prelapsarian innocence.5 Thus Fraenger's Bosch emerges as a kind of complex Fra Lippo Lippi whose work manifestly preaches a gospel of the spirit while latently promoting the enjoyment of the flesh. In Fraenger's own words, Bosch "freed medieval art from its subjection to the church and, in the phantom world that he made his own creative domain, distorted the fear of God, which the church kept under control, into a terrifying pandemonium of lust." Thus he dramatizes "a new religious will to life, which clashed with the tradition of the church" and offered "the road to salvation of a religious doctrine of love, a mystery of eroticism" (15). Although art historians disagree on the validity of such a thesis, there can be little doubt that Fraenger honestly confronts the central paradox of Bosch's art, which seems simultaneously to scourge and sanctify sensual pleasures. And this, of course, is also the central paradox of The Monk. Equally relevant is Fraenger's attention to Bosch's manipulation of his onlooker's voyeuristic tendencies as his paintings stereoscopically focus on both sensual degradation and sexual innocence by setting "a trap for the viewer's eye" (42) at almost every point on its visual quest through the optical mine fields Bosch's canvases become.

What Fraenger at one point calls Bosch's "pupillary magic" (270) is perhaps nowhere more evidently relevant to The Monk than in The Table of Wisdom, once known as The Seven Deadly Sins. On this forboding tabletop, Bosch presents a central sphere whose outer circumference displays a sevenfold pageantry illustrating each sin and whose inner circumference recreates Christ's emergence from His sarcophagus within the image of the Eye of God itself, which is captioned, "Beware, Beware, God sees." Flanking this central circle in each corner of the table hang smaller spheres limning the four last things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. As with each of Bosch's pertinent works, we can only mention a fraction of the relevant detail here, but the provocative conversion of the Beatific Vision into a Divine Voyeur commands the viewer's own attention in much the same way as human voyeurism captivates and involves the reader of The Monk. In fact, the bottom scroll warns us of God's ubiquitous, veiled presence: "I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be" (Deut. 32:20). What God sees, of course, is a reflection of the viewer's own collective experiences in the cartoonish allegories of the Seven Deadly Sins, which, like The Monk, feature follies from every rank of life including hypocritical monks and nuns. Thus the outer macrocosm of the earth and the inner microcosm of the eye coincide here, just as the image of the mirror, repeatedly associated with the sin of Superbia, may remind us not only that Lewis's own "passion for mirrors" (Irwin 26) is reflected in the magic glass exposing the bathing Antonia to Ambrosio, but also that Pride personified in Ambrosio controls each of its satellite pecadillos like Beatrice's lust, Baptiste's thieving avarice, Donna Rodolpha's envy of Agnes, Mother Agatha's raging anger, the parody of sloth in the "soporific draught" (321) which symbolizes the embowered Antonia as "the prey of ennui" (305), and even Flora's comically gluttonous feasting on fowl on Friday (314-15).

More particularly, the tableau of Death reminds us of the psychomachia staged during Ambrosio's execution vigil since dire Death and his satanic familiar seem at least as potent as the dour friars and nuns in the picture. This kind of doubling ironically implies that even the Church itself must invoke such spiritual horrors to frighten the departing soul to heaven, if the induced despair doesn't first precipitate the sinner, like Ambrosio, to hell. As Agnes cries apropos of the Draconian nuns who guard her, "they think themselves holy, while they torture me like fiends!… 'tis they who threaten me with eternal perdition!" (356). Moreover, in the vignette of Hell itself, which illustrates the particular punishment of each Deadly Sin, the burning towers stoked by demons recall the flaming convent torched by the demonic crowd in The Monk, and the nude female whose genitals are appropriately covered by a verminous toad is paradoxically reminiscent of the imprisoned and "half naked" (355) Agnes "who felt the bloated toad … dragging his loathsome length along my bosom" (395). The implication here is that, although Agnes's concupiscence may be less noxious in the viewer's eyes than that of Bosch's fleshly sinner, still her punishment identically fits her crime since she admits "I violated my vows of chastity," which Ambrosio rephrases as "you have defiled the sacred habit by your impurity" (71, 70).

Next, The Hay Wain triptych at the Escorial (another version survives in the Museo del Prado) presents two outer wings illustrating the Wayfarer or earthly Pilgrim travelling, much like Raymond, through a treacherous terrain of stylized robbers, executions, and sensual peasants, each of which, in different ways, anticipates the sensuous saraband depicted on the inner panels. Here an allegorical procession, praising folly like the Cathedral crowd in The Monk, quite literally "worships" hay or meaningless mercenary goods (Gibson 70, 73) and is flanked by smaller panels of Paradise and Hell, just as the images of "the garden and cemetery" (335) dominate monastic life in the novel. In fact, the eye's pilgrimage through these three panels and their visual snares traces a kind of typically Gothic W pattern as it sinks through Paradise, ascends to the crest of the wagon, and then plummets again through the topography of Hell. In this sense, it is significant that both Paradise and Hell are similarly structured according to analogous vertical levels, suggesting that the fall of innocence is as naturally inherent to both conditions as the repeated intrusion of the serpent. Both innocence and experience, according to Lewis's contemporary Blake, are "the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul" (Blake 171). Thus, as our eye descends through the planes of Paradise, it is as if we are psychonauts exploring the rough underbelly of embowered innocence. Adam and Eve first appear gracefully unclothed; then Eve cautiously veils herself with a figleaf during the temptation, and finally both are shamefully veiled upon being driven from the Garden. In Hell, although the figleaf is replaced first by the emblematic toad and then by the coiling serpent, the viewer's sense of the dialectic between innocence and experience is much the same, only darkened because of the infernal chromatic scale. Together both panels remind us that The Monk similarly moves from the monastery garden to Ambrosio's concluding inferno in a valley landscaped like Jehosaphat.

In the central panel, the symbolic bower of bliss crowning the hay wagon is complete with both a resident angel and serpentine demon, but the attitudes of the lovers suggest that the latter has won the day as they are about to "make hay." This kind of visual pun, so dear to Bosch, implies that here Luxuria, or Queen Lust, dominates the other Deadly Sins emblemized in the procession, as the seductress Matilda seems to dominate so much of the central action in The Monk. In fact, when Ambrosio is stung as he "stopped to pluck one of the roses" for Matilda in the monastery garden, his hand "swelled to an extraordinary size." The consequent sexual implications of his fall and the repeated poison-passion analogy suggest not only that "concealed among the roses" (92) of every innocent garden is a serpent, even if it is only the serpent of mutability, but also that the fall can always be a prelude to "extraordinary" self-development. Furthermore, the swarthy devils and burning towers in Hell and the secular prelates and worldly monks and nuns at the Hay festival suggest the mise en scène of Lorenzo's dream, besides the religious danse macabre of "grotesque attitudes" in the Procession of St. Clare, which precedes the burning of the convent (336). More generally, though, the sense of déja vù one feels when examining these uncanny panels is due to their strange Gothic intermixture of tones, which ineffably blends the blessed and bestial into a kind of consecrated cartoon like The Monk. In this sense, both viewer and reader feel much as Agnes does upon awakening in her crypt: "my senses were so bewildered, and my brain so dizzy, that I strove in vain to arrange the strange images which floated in wild confusion before me" (384).

At any rate, the paradoxes of the garden that Lewis and Bosch similarly dramatize are the primary focus of the triptych of The Garden of Earthly Delights, which flanks the central panel of the Earthly Paradise again with side panels of Eden and Hell. As in The Monk, the painting's visual challenge involves its questioning ambivalence toward love and sensual fulfillment. That is, does the canvas, like a traditional allegory of the Bower of Bliss, warn us, with Keats that we "dwell with Beauty—Beauty that must die?" This Et in Arcadia Ego motif was popularly rendered during the Renaissance in ivory miniatures exposing entwined lovers or an inviting nude female, behind whom lurks a decomposing grim reaper (Gibson 87-88) whose memento mori punishes the initial voyeurism much as the veiled, rotten corpse of the Bleeding Nun rebukes Raymond's fascination with Agnes (170). On the other hand, does the painting suggest that sensual fulfillment leads to Hell only if, like Lorenzo, one is guiltily programmed by orthodoxy to view pleasure as precipitating a sinful fall from the graceful innoncence of Paradise? The canvas's provocative marriage of heaven and hell seems to support both readings, and in this sense it closely resembles The Monk.

More specifically, it again prefigures the "voluptuous tranquility" of the "abbey-garden" (73-74) where Matilda first visually tempts Ambrosio with the "beauteous orb" of her "half exposed" breast (87). And the ocular geometry of the central pool of nude female bathers surrounded by the frenzied cavalcade of male voyeurs makes us wonder whether Bosch means to pluck out our eye or to glorify its gifts.6 As Walter S. Gibson contends, Bosch's Earthly Paradise probably owes much of its landscaping to the Romance of the Rose (83-87), and Lewis's version is clearly in the same romance tradition: "Fountains, springing from the basons [sic] of white marble, cooled the air with perpetual showers, and the walls were entirely covered by jessamine, vines, and honeysuckles … a gentle breeze breathed the fragrance of orange-blossoms along the alleys, and the nightingale poured forth her melodious murmur from the shelter of an artificial wilderness" (73). Lewis even includes a "hermitage" or "rustic grotto" nestled in "the bosom of this little grove" where Matilda and Ambrosio hold their trysts and where similarly, in the lower right foreground of Bosch's hortus conclusus, a hirsute Adam and Eve peep out from their cover. Fraenger again finds such a grotto to be of central importance to the Adamite cult which saw "Adam as the Christlike bearer of revelation, the underground cave as Paradise, and ritual nakedness associated with markedly religious love, which was regarded as innocent and above all sensuality, and was usually called 'angelic love'" (19).

We must remember, however, that the Hell panel restages this scenario like some monstrous immorality play, where the reign of Queen Lust becomes a reign of terror. The romance motif of "the music of the flesh" (Gibson 98) is here particularly punished, and the naked figure crucified on the serpent-entwined harp reminds us that Matilda beguiles Ambrosio's senses with her harp-playing, which suggestively "proves her a perfect mistress of the instrument" (95). Again and by now almost predictably, crumbling, burning towers overlay Bosch's topsy-turvy Gehenna structured partially like a Gothic monastery and Inquisition chamber, where the prisoners are judging their hypocritical judges and where a monkish confessor sodomistically ruts with his penitent and simultaneously reads about unpardonable sins from his confession manual. At the same time, a lascivious sow in a nun's habit, recalling Matilda's religious disguise, clutches a naked prelate and urges him to consign his estate to the priory as well as his soul to the pit. This quantitative approach to religion recalls Jacintha's comic concern with simony when she "purchased as many pardons from the pope as would buy off Cain's punishment" (313). Finally, the Prince of Darkness himself is here reminiscent of the winged Satan and his eagle familiars which alternately punish Ambrosio (420), since Lucifer is depicted as an insatiable bird of prey with a chamber pot, who engorges himself on one victim as he vents others into even lower depths of the infernal sewer from which peeps a parody of our first parents in their paradisal cave in the center panel. Thus love quite literally "pitches his mansion in the place of excrement," and yet the combined effect of all three panels is closer to Crazy Jane's major argument to her bishop (in Yeats's poem, not Lewis's own popular "Crazy Jane Ballad"):

    'Fair and foul are near of kin,
    And fair needs foul,' I cried!
    'For nothing can be sole or whole
    That has not been rent.'
                                (254-55, ll. 7-8, 17-18)

Finally, Fraenger reminds us that "Bosch's favorite theme [is] the temptation of St. Anthony" (305). And the painter's renditions of this theme are very relevant to our understanding of the temptations of Ambrosio in The Monk, who clearly identifies with the sense-plagued saint: "St Anthony had withstood all seductions to lust, then why should not he? Besides, St. Anthony was tempted by the devil …" (103). Thus, much more than their common Franciscan order link Bosch's and Lewis's frairs, not the least of which being that Antonia (Ambrosio's sister) is the feminine form of Anthony. Fraenger's masterful analysis of Bosch's late treatment of his other-worldly recluse, which hangs in the Prado, is especially perceptive in contrasting St. Anthony's external visual serenity with what the landscape reveals as tumultuous internal visions rivaling Ambrosio's: "the images generated by his unconscious instinctual drives usually represent masked and disguised sexuality" (307). These drives are especially personified in that "unknown brother" who peeps at Bosch's meditative monk from the pool before him like the dark paraclete in Lorenzo's dream: "With its cry of 'In vain!' this unexpectedly emerging self seeks to unmask the saint's ascetic effort as worthless self-deception and hopeless effort, since neither mortification of the flesh nor contemplative sublimation has been able to overcome his inborn nature" (308).

Much more famous and pertinent, however, is The Temptation of Saint Anthony triptych (c. 1485–1505), now in Lisbon, which grotesquely revises the hagiographical legends recounting Anthony's attack by demons while he was praying near a desert sepulchre, their second attack when they toss him skyward and allow him to fall battered back to earth, and his final test by the Devil Queen whose apparent compassion veils her carnal temptations. Thus, as Lewis's Ambrosio presents his reader with a kind of visual ambrosia, so too Bosch's Anthony fascinates our voyeuristic curiosities and is perhaps even a symbolic self-portrait of his creator (Justi 55). In Fraenger's words, Bosch "has called upon the four elements, plunging them into spooky tumult in which sexuality intertwines with the trefoil of idolatry, magic, and sodomy and serves above all to excite the roving eye" (346). And relevantly it was during Bosch's life that the Humanists began to question the real value of Anthony's brand of cloistered and solipsistic innocence (Gibson 152), as Lewis later does with Ambrosio's "total exclusion from the world" which prevents him from knowing "in what consists the difference of man and woman" (44) and which repressively precludes even "the opportunity to be guilty" (47)—at least until such repression spawns instinctual rebellion.

More particularly, Anthony's vertical double exposure in the upper and lower sections of the right panel clarifies the similar trajectory of Ambrosio's fall, suggesting that the self-denying ascetic who overreaches human limits ultimately disembodies himself to less than human proportions as his pride goes before his fall. Furthermore, the burning monastery in the central panel is again relevant to the inferno which engulfs the convent and suggests the metaphoric context of the disease of ergotism or St. Anthony's fire, one of whose symptoms is satanic hallucinations (Gibson 145). The Black Mass offered next to the obelisk recalls Matilda's and Ambrosio's devil worship. But more significantly, at the center of the main panel is the parodic willow hag with her spectral infant and ghastly paramour, dubbed the "virgin" and noble "young man" (Fraenger 391), who seem disturbing prototypes of the cadaverous Agnes, her dead child, and the diseased Raymond. Finally, in the right panel, when the Devil Queen tries to veil her nudity with assumed modesty, Anthony's consequent resistance to this enforced voyeurism only drives his averted glance to the devil's obscene banquet being prepared in the lower left foreground, which seems to offer the anchorite only more fascinating sexual and satanic indelicacies, just as Ambrosio is driven from the affected modesty of Matilda to the artificially conditioned modesty of Antonia and finally to the black magic of Satan. In sum, whether or not Bosch's Anthony is indicted as Fraenger argues, his temptations, like Ambrosio's, appear self-conceived, and his demons and their familiars seem to be as much mentors as tormentors.

Thus, like the ambiguous vertical extremes in Lorenzo's dream, Bosch's ambivalent presentation of Anthony's descent helps prepare us for Lewis's ultimate presentation of Ambrosio's climactic rise and fall in the last paragraph of The Monk (419-20): "The daemon continued to soar aloft, till reaching a dreadful height, he released the sufferer. Headlong fell the monk through the airy waste; the sharp point of a rock received him; and he rolled from precipice to precipice, till, bruised and mangled, he rested on the river's banks." Subsequently, for "six miserable days did the villain languish. On the seventh a storm arose: … the waves overflowed their banks; they reached the spot where Ambrosio lay, and when they abated, carried with them into the river the corse of the despairing monk." These prolonged final moments of Ambrosio broadcast several significantly mixed extratextual and textual allusions which finally enlarge Lewis's indictment of voyeurism into the Gothic dialectical vision of the human condition, which Byron's Manfred summarizes as "Half dust, half deity, alike unfit / To sink or soar" (393, I, ii, 40-41).7

For example, besides its rather remarkable resemblance to Bosch's depiction of St. Anthony's satanically controlled descent, Ambrosio's fall recalls Adam's fall from grace and Lucifer's from heaven in Paradise Lost, and "his broken and dislocated limbs" suggest the consequent self-division which St. Anthony, Adam, and Satan all, at least symbolically, suffer. His wracked limbs may even conjure associations with Christ's crucifixion, and certainly the Abbot's early promise and sanctity render him as a figure of Christ before he devolves into an Antichrist. Further-more, the seven day ordeal implies a chaotic parody of Creation (much as when "Universal Darkness buries All" at the end of Pope's The Dunciad, 584, IV, 655), although the cleansing river and storm may also refer to Noah's purging and purifying final flood. But then again the wrathful environment here also connotes the apocalyptic Dies Irae traditionally associated with the Valley of Jehosaphat. Moreover, the plague of insects which drink Ambrosio's blood as "they fastened upon his sores, darted their strings into his body, and covered him with their multitudes" seems at first glance almost a parasitic parody of his own violation of Antonia, and thus his punishment befits his crime. It also, however, represents one of several reversals of the legends of St. Ambrose documented in Jacobus de Voragine's medieval collection of the lives of the saints, The Golden Legend, which certainly influenced Bosch. Voragine describes not only how Ambrose was destined for greatness when, as a child, a swarm of bees flew into his mouth and then soared away toward heaven, but also how he affected paganism and whoremongering to avoid the honor of election to a bishop, how he prophesied his sister would one day kiss him earnestly when he attained an episcopacy, and how he was especially versed in exorcising demons (24-33)—all of which legends seem parodied in Ambrosio's insect attack, sin of incest, and demonic idolatry.

Besides such paradoxically mixed allusions to sacred writings, there are other profane, classical allusions to the various tortures of Tartarus, especially the frustrations of Tantalus and Sisyphus since, though "a burning thirst tormented" Ambrosio, he "strove in vain to drag himself towards" the nearby river. The classical motif is rendered more relevant when "the eagles of the rock tore his flesh piecemeal, and dug out his eyeballs with their crooked beaks," since these predators seem to be grotesque exaggerations of the "tame linnet" which, while Ambrosio watched, "nibbled" Antonia's breast "in wanton play" as she "strove in vain to shake off the bird from its delightful harbour" (269). On the other hand, of course, their persecution recalls the plight of Prometheus and suggests the titanic scope of Ambrosio's rebellion against God. Finally, his symbolic blinding directly implies Oedipus's sin of incest, besides providing a final chastisement of his voyeurism.

Moreover, placed as it is at the very end of the novel, like Melmoth the Wanderer's fall from the sea cliff, Ambrosio's unrepentant tragic downfall radically rejects (rather than reinforces) the sense of Providential order and renewal which the Duke of Medina's political "prudence and moderation" (378) and the social contracts of the final marriages seem to establish. Thus, like Fortinbras at the end of Hamlet, Medina apparently insures that "order and tranquility once more prevailed through Madrid" (377), and yet the reader's actual response to the novel's political and social sense of retributive justice may share more with Elvira's earlier conclusions: "in a world so base, so perfidious and depraved, her heart swelled with the bitterness of apprehension" (277). As Lewis himself once observed in a letter to his mother, "in my opinion, the acuteness of pleasure in this world bears no proportion to the acuteness of pain" (Peck 222). Again, then, Ambrosio resembles Bosch's ambiguous monk because his diabolic punishment cannot be easily judged and, in fact, casts serious doubts on any facile, reductive reading of the novel as Lewis's self-indulgence in Gothic machinery.

In this context, when Ambrosio languishes "execrating his existence" after his fall, his possibly sympathetic Angst repeats the earlier existential agonies of Antonia and Agnes, just as the splintered selves of Bosch's Anthony are personified throughout the unspeakable practices fragmenting his canvases. Agnes's recalled notes from the underground (390-97) in her "subterraneous dwelling" partially reinforce this ultimate tone of Gothic existentialism,8 which outlasts the questionable nature of her marital bliss. They also tend to duplicate Bosch's painted notes from his underground charnel and carnal houses. Thus Agnes is nearly "driven by despair to madness" when she finds herself "in silence and fortitude" forced to "drag on a miserable existence" in the subterranean torture chamber which also "terminated my sweet babe's short and painful existence." In fact, so memorable is this solitary confinement that her subsequent and almost absurd "sudden transition from misery to bliss" seems illusory; and her earlier captivity, like Ambrosio's final moments, becomes an existential paradigm of the prevalent human condition in the novel: "So lately a captive, oppressed with chains, perishing with hunger, suffering every inconvenience of cold and want, hidden from the light, excluded from society, hopeless, neglected, and, as I feared, forgotten." Consequently, her long-awaited marriage to Raymond (like the union of Bosch's Willow Hag and Noble Young Man) and Lorenzo's to Virginia hardly provide a happily-ever-after romance closure. Rather, they are like Theodore and Isabella's warped wedding at the end of The Castle of Otranto when, after the mayhem of Walpole's Gothic excess, the sober ceremony simply provides the bereaved Theodore with a receptive ear for his lamenting the loss of Matilda, that is, "the society of one, with whom he could for ever indulge the melancholy that had taken possession of his soul" (106). Here, too, the nuptials are suitably somber since Lorenzo's feeling for Virginia "partook not of the ardent character which had marked his affections for Antonia" (399). And like Bosch's black humor, Lewis's sense of absurdity, which Walpole sadly lacks, makes Agnes's marriage more sardonic than somber since she ominously suggests to Raymond that her premarital sexuality shall be replaced with complete marital chastity: "the more culpable have been the errors of your mistress, the more exemplary shall be the conduct of your wife" (398). Thus the veil prematurely removed would now seem to become a chastity belt locked forever, thereby perpetuating the repressive value systems which have plagued everyone in the novel.

In sum, just as hints of St. Anthony's damnation darken the tone of Bosch's canvases, so too the Gothic machinery of Ambrosio's climactic damnation casts a retrospective pall over The Monk's several ambivalent soliloquies in a Spanish cloister. It reminds us of Ambroisio's tongue-in-cheek remark that the "sepulchre seems to me to be Love's bower" (366) and of Medina's more cynical echo from As You Like It: "men have died, and worms have ate them, but not for love" (381). It even reminds us of the profound sense of Gothic ruin which the many "objects of mortality" (367) and "images of corruption" (368), like "graves, and tombs, and skeletons" (366), instill in the novel. Ultimately, it may remind us that whether we take pride in, or feel pity for, Ambrosio's capital punishment, our response entraps us in bogs of moral ambiguity as deep and sticky as those in Bosch's work, since if we self-righteously exult in the Monk's torture, we grow like the sadistic Prioress or ironically like the brutal mob whose "barbarous vengeance" wrongfully punishes her. On the other hand, if we forgive Ambrosio as Agnes forgives Mother St. Agatha (395), our kindness seems a form of wilfull blindness, and our pardon may almost criminally betray an inner weakness. Thus neither a sense of retributive justice, nor a sense of forgiveness seems entirely defensible here. Even though the Inquisitorial ministers of God pardon the Abbot's unpardonable sin, his preemptive despair makes a mockery of that pardon and of his own opportunistic faith. And when we consider that Satan thus appears to have "triumphed" (418) in his battle with God over Ambrosio's soul, or at least that God must depend on Satan as His Executioner, the novel's assault on Divine Providence and Omnipotence seems equally disturbing.

As a matter of fact, the counterpointing energies in Lewis's Gothic romance, as in Bosch's Gothic art, create an honest doubt and healthy skepticism that are ultimately more redemptive than the warped value systems both artists condemn. Lord Holland meant gently to lament such iconoclasm in Lewis some years after his friend's death, but actually reveals the strength of Lewis's (and Bosch's) appeal: "his mind was vitiated with a mystical, though irreligious, philosophy; his taste in reading, writing, and thinking, corrupted by paradox; and his conversation disfigured by captious perverseness in controversy" (Peck 176). Thus, like Bosch's work, The Monk accommodates both God and ghosts, recalling Shelley's rather dismayed description of the way Lewis and Byron equated both forms of Gothic machinery, while he himself believed only in unholy spirits. While "Apollo's Sexton" (Byron's name for Lewis) rationally may have disbelieved in either, imaginatively the "many mysteries of his trade" in The Monk demanded both. In Shelley's words, "We talk of Ghosts. Neither Lord Byron nor M. G. L. seems to believe in them; and they both agree, in the very face of reason, that none could believe in ghosts without believing in God. I do not think that all persons who profess to discredit these visitations, really discredit them; or, if they do in the daylight, are not admonished, by the approach of loneliness and midnight, to think more respectfully of the world of shadows" (Shelley 147).

But Shelley slights Lewis's uncompromising intellectual integrity, for his Gothic vision, like Bosch's, insists upon our remaining open to conflicting solutions to the human dilemma. Although both raise our eyebrows, these kindred spirits also open our eyes to the radical tolerance of "the innocent eye" or dialectical condition of "alert suspense" that their brother Gothicist,9 Sir Herbert Read, ultimately advocates: "For in the end I have put all in doubt / God, man; earth, heaven: I live on in alert suspense. / I believe in my unbelief" ("The Golden Disc," 242, ll. 91-93). Or as Lewis confessed to his mother after finishing The Monk, "I prefer knowing the whole, or nothing; for I have an admirable talent for tormenting myself, and the truth can never be worse, tha[n] what I imagine when left to myself" (Peck 216).


1. Several other critical responses have also addressed the problem of formal unity and the relevance of Gothic machinery in The Monk. Brooks and Grudin find an historical and philosophical unity in the novel, but for different reasons. The former believes "the novel can in fact be read as one of the first and most lucid contextualizations of life in a world where reason has lost its prestige, yet the Godhead has lost its otherness; where the Sacred has been reacknowledged but atomized, and its ethical imperatives psychologized" (249). The latter, on the other hand, sees The Monk reflecting "pre-enlightenment" rather than post-enlightenment ideas: "Unwilling to rely solely on the shopworn machinery of castles, armor and crypts, [Lewis] created a Gothic atmosphere with a fidelity that Walpole and Radcliffe never achieved. His novel recreates a world that is theologically as well as physically archaic" (144). Other relevant studies argue sporadically that Lewis's manipulation of reader response helps to coordinate his otherwise disparate material. For instance, Lydenberg's pertinent treatment of narrative "ambivalence" in The Monk finds that "Lewis' repeated ironic undercutting of the trappings of Gothic fiction, which he nevertheless persists in employing to maximum effect, reveals the same tentativeness which leads him to affect a flippancy and indifference towards all literary activity" (65). Kiely feels that "it is almost as though Lewis had played an unfair trick on the reader by endowing his Gothic stereotypes with life at unexpected and fatal moments" (114). And lastly Punter insists that, "above all," Lewis "wants the reader to see essentially private faults exposed mercilessly on a more or less public stage, and he wants to mock his confused reactions. For Lewis, at all points, tries to be more cynical than his audience, and to dominate it by means of this cynicism" (92).

2. All future page references to The Monk are from the Evergreen edition and are included in the text.

3. For an excellent general discussion of the Gothic imagery of veils and surfaces, see Sedgwick.

4. The interested reader should consult Justi's entire discussion of "The Works of Hieronymous Bosch in Spain."

5. I am using Putnam's edition of Fraenger because it is a "complete edition" (506) of Fraenger's work on Bosch, including revisions of his seminal 1947 study and his later analyses of individual paintings. This Putnam edition also provides large illustrative plates and numerous helpful close-ups of detail from all of the paintings discussed in this essay. For a judicious evaluation of Fraenger's controlling hypothesis and its place in Bosch studies, see Patrik Reuterswärd's Postscript (499-506).

6. See MacAndrew for a discussion of this garden as "a distortion of the devices of the Sentimental novel" (92-93).

7. For other brief treatments of Ambrosio's final "downfall," see Gose (37-38), Fogle (43-44), Kiely (117), and Hallie (78-79).

8. Brooks also implies an existential reading of the novel (262-63). For an account of the relationships between Gothicism and Existentialism, see Hennelly's discussion of "Gothic Existentialism" with special reference to Melmoth the Wanderer (particularly 666-71).

9. The Innocent Eye is the relevant title of Read's autobiography. For an example of Read's interest in Gothicism, see his Introduction to Wilhelm Worringer's architectural study, Form in Gothic, where he not only defends Gothic machinery, but also finds in it a dialectical temper close to his own: "Gothic art must no longer be the romantic predilection of the traveller and archaeologist: it takes its place as the highest and most accurate expression of a great phase in the history of European culture." Consequently, Worringer's analysis of Gothic architectural psychology "necessarily makes demands on the reader: it exacts a close attention and a 'willing suspension' of prejudice" (xii).

Works Cited

Blake, William. Engraved and Etched Writings. William Blake's Writings. Ed. G. E. Bentley, Jr. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978. Vol. 2.

Brooks, Peter. "Virtue and Terror: The Monk." English Literary History 40 (1973): 249-63.

Byron, George Gordon Lord. Byron: Poetical Works. Ed. Frederick Page. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970.

da Vinci Nichols, Nina. "Place and Eros in Radcliffe, Lewis, and Brontë." The Female Gothic. Ed. Juliann E. Fleenor. Montreal and London: Eden Press, 1983. 187-206.

de Voragine, Jacobus. The Golden Legend. Trans. Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1941.

Fogle, Richard Harter. "The Passions of Ambrosio." The Classic British Novel. Ed. Howard M. Harper, Jr. and Charles Edge. Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1972. 36-50.

Fraenger, Wilhelm. Hieronymous Bosch. Trans. Helen Sebba. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1983.

Gibson, Walter S. Hieronymous Bosch. New York and Washington: Praeger, 1973.

Gose, Elliott B. Imagination Indulged: The Irrational in the Nineteenth-Century Novel. Montreal: McGill-Queen's Univ. Press, 1972. 27-40.

Grudin, Peter. "The Monk: Matilda and the Rhetoric of Deceit." Journal of Narrative Technique 5 (1975): 136-146.

Hallie, Philip P. The Paradox of Cruelty. Middleton, Conn.: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1969. 63-84 passim.

Harvey, John. The Cathedrals of Spain. New York: Hastings House, 1957.

Hannelly, Mark M., Jr. "Gothic Existentialism in Melmoth the Wanderer." Studies in English Literature 21 (1981): 665-79.

Irwin, Joseph James. M. G. "Monk" Lewis. Boston: Twayne, 1976.

Justi, Carl. "The Works of Hieronymous Bosch in Spain." Bosch in Perspective. Ed. James Snyder. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1973.

Kiely, Robert. The Romantic Novel in England. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1972. 98-117.

Lewis, Matthew Gregory. The Monk. Ed. Louis F. Peck. Intro. John Berryman. New York: Evergreen Book, 1959.

Lydenburg, Robin. "Ghostly Rhetoric: Ambivalence in M.G. Lewis' The Monk." Ariel 10 (1979): 65-78.

MacAndrew, Elizabeth. The Gothic Tradition in Fiction. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1979. 86-93.

Maturin, Charles Robert. Melmoth the Wanderer. Intro. William F. Axton. Lincoln: Univ. Nebraska Press, Bison Book, 1961.

Peck, Louis. A Life of Matthew G. Lewis. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1961.

Pope, Alexander. Poetical Works. Ed. Herbert Davis. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1966.

Punter, David. The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fiction from 1765 to the present day. London and New York: Longman, 1980. 60-97 passim.

Read, Herbert. Collected Poems. New York: Horizon Press, 1966.

――――――. The Innocent Eye. New York: Holt, 1947.

――――――. Trans., ed., and intro. Form in Gothic. By Wilhelm Worringer. rev. ed. New York: Schocken Books, 1957.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. "The Character in the Veil: Imagery of the Surface in the Gothic Novel." PMLA 96 (1981): 255-70.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Ed. Roger Ingpen and Walter E. Peck. 10 vols. London: Ernest Benn and New York: Gordian Press, 1965. Vol. 6.

Sitwell, Sacheverell. Gothic Europe. New York: Holt, 1969.

Street, George Edmund. Some Account of Gothic Architecture in Spain. Ed. Georgiana Goddard King. 2 vols. New York and London: Benjamin Blom, 1914. Vol. 1.

Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto. Three Gothic Novels. ed. E. F. Bleiler. New York: Dover, 1966. 1-106.

Yeats, William Butler. The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats. New York: Macmillan, 1956.


SOURCE: Wright, Angela. "European Disruptions of the Idealized Woman: Matthew Lewis's The Monk and the Marquis de Sade's La Nouvelle Justine." In European Gothic: A Spirited Exchange, 1760–1960, edited by Avril Horner, pp. 39-54. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.

In the following essay, Wright traces parallels between The Monk and the Marquis de Sade's novel Justine and maintains that the two works influenced one another in significant ways, including in their narrative technique and portrayal of heroines.

Matthew Gregory Lewis and the Marquis de Sade are, in their own rights, well-researched authors. Lewis is rightfully accorded a prominent position in critical surveys of the English Gothic novel due to his notorious production The Monk (Miles 1993; Kilgour 1995; Botting 1996; Punter 1996); the Marquis de Sade has also recently been afforded a great deal of critical and biographical attention (Lever 1991; Schaeffer 1999). What is less well documented, however, is the mutually influential relationship under which both authors' work flourished.

The tracing of Matthew Lewis's numerous 'borrowed' sources in The Monk began swiftly after the novel's publication. In 1797, for example, an article in the Monthly Review took pleasure in identifying in The Monk a number of plot motifs taken from, amongst other sources, Smollett's Ferdinand Count Fathom, Cazotte's Le Diable amoureux (1772), and numerous German romances. The review, however, was surprisingly favourable of these 'borrowings'. It argued:

This may be called plagiarism, yet it deserves some praise. The great art of writing consists in selecting what is most stimulant from the works of our predecessors, and in uniting the gathered beauties in a new whole, more interesting than the tributary models. This is the essential process of the imagination, and excellence is no otherwise attained. All invention is but new combination. To invent well is to combine the impressive.

                       (Anon. 1797b: 451, n. 23)

Such accusations of lightly veiled plagiarism, coupled with the extensive documentation of Lewis's familiarity with and translations of German terror literature, have haunted the publication history of The Monk to such an extent that we are now inclined to read it as a Barthesian tis-sue of other stories, rather than search for coherency of themes. This chapter, however, will begin by tracing the mutual influences which the texts of de Sade and Lewis shared, and conclude by charting the reciprocity of themes and ideas between Lewis and de Sade.

Matthew Lewis published The Monk in 1796, subsequent to some time spent in Paris. While he was in Paris in the summer of 1791, he acquired and read the second edition of the Marquis de Sade's novel Justine, ou les malheurs de la vertu, published in that same year. The reading of Justine undoubtedly influenced Lewis's subsequent novelistic creation, for The Monk sent the English Gothic novel in a radical new direction, on account of the terrors to which its pious female characters are subjected. The Monk, indeed, bears far more comparison with de Sade's libertine novels than with the English Gothic novel form because, as many critics have noted, it is a novel that focuses entirely upon the revelatory aspect of narrative. In this way, it clearly maps on to de Sade's project of 'tout révéler', or 'the revelation of all'. Having acknowledged that de Sade's creation Justine was undoubtedly a source of inspiration for Lewis, the latter part of this chapter will chart how, in return, Lewis's novel appears to have influenced de Sade's third and final reprise of the story of Justine. Significantly, Lewis's The Monk was translated into French for the first time in 1797 under the simple title of Le Moine.1 The publication date of this first translation is significant, for 1797 also marked the year in which, after a lapse of six years, de Sade revised the notorious Justine, ou les malheurs de la vertu, into a third and final edition entitled La Nouvelle Justine. Crucially, Lewis's novel lies between the second and third editions of de Sade's creation, and, I would argue, provided a stimulus for de Sade's comprehensive thematic revisions.

The first edition of de Sade's novel, Les Infortunes de la vertu, was written during his imprisonment in the Bastille between 1787 and 1788. Les Infortunes recounts the story of a pious and innocent girl named Justine, who, upon the death of her parents, is thrown out onto the streets from the convent where she has been living. She has an older sister called Juliette who is licentious by nature and who resolves to maintain herself by prostitution; to the fervently religious Justine, however, this is a fate worse than death. She resolves to earn her living through honesty and charity, but in the cruel world that de Sade depicts, she soon discovers that honesty and virtue are worthless commodities. Her starkly depicted naivety make her a victim of constant rape and torture from the figureheads of the institutions in which she places her faith.

This first edition of de Sade's novel was a modest two hundred pages in length and was described by its author as a 'conte philosophique' or 'philosophical tale'. De Sade never published Les Infortunes and it did not see the light of day until 1930, when it was edited by Maurice Heine. De Sade's second edition, Justine, ou les malheurs de la vertu, published in 1791, retained the first-person narrative of the previous edition but redoubled the narrative of the heroine's distresses, and embodied much more salacious detail. It is this second edition of the novel that Lewis would have bought and read in Paris. Both Maurice Heine and Béatrice Didier have described the evolution between these first two versions as the progression from a simple tale to that of a romantic Gothic novel due to the subsequent additions of underground cells, macabre moments and reveries (Didier 1976: 106). In addition, Heine has drawn parallels between the trope of the 'explained supernatural' in Ann Radcliffe's novels, and de Sade's frequent and abrupt alternations between Gothic scenarios and their rational explanations (Heine 1973: III 36).

Such Gothic additions to de Sade's novel clearly influenced some of the scenarios in Lewis's novel. For example, the sepulchral location of Antonia's rape by Ambrosio in The Monk bears a strong resemblance to the underground seraglio in the Sainte-Marie-des-Bois monastery where Justine is raped and tortured. Besides locational and atmospheric resemblances, there are also clear thematic parallels between Justine, ou les malheurs de la vertu, The Monk, and de Sade's subsequent La Nouvelle Justine. One of the most striking themes which is shared by both authors lies in the brutal collation of their novelistic heroines with idolized versions of the Madonna. It was through this key coupling of their heroines with the Madonna that Lewis and de Sade launched a critique of the privileging of such iconography in religion.

In Ways of Seeing, John Berger has famously commented on the portrayal of women as visions that: 'Women watch themselves being looked at … The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object—and most particularly an object of vision: a sight …' (1972: 47). According to Berger, then, there is little or no distinction between this 'sight', conjured by the female to flatter the male, and becoming an 'object of vision'. The word 'vision' is of vital importance in the way that the heroines of both The Monk and the various versions of Justine are portrayed. At the beginning of their novels, Lewis and de Sade both establish a discourse of spectacle in which both characters and readers are compelled to participate.

Lewis's novel The Monk signals its participation in this complicitous spectatorial discourse on the very first page, where an audience is gathered at the Church of the Capuchins to hear the eponymous monk Ambrosio preach:

Scarcely had the Abbey-Bell tolled for five minutes, and already was the Church of the Capuchins thronged with Auditors. Do not encourage the idea that the Crowd was assembled from motives of piety or thirst of information … The Women came to show themselves, the Men to see the Women: Some were attracted by curiosity to hear an Orator so celebrated; Some came because they had no better means of employing their time till the play began; Some, from being assured that it would be impossible to find places in the Church; and one half of Madrid was brought thither by expecting to see the other half.

                                  (Lewis 1980: 7)

By establishing at the very beginning of this novel unstable connections between female beauty, male desire and religion, the novel immediately establishes the themes that it wishes to undermine. The narrator's stark honesty at the beginning of the novel provides a sharp contrast to the characters' own lack of motivational awareness. It also, however, forces the reader into a passive position where there is no mystery to be worked out. Everything is on display in The Monk: sexual desire, hypocrisy and naivety are all presented to us, forcing us into a spectatorial position.

Such a revelatory beginning to The Monk bears comparison with de Sade's second edition of Justine in 1791. In Justine, ou les malheurs de la vertu, Justine as first-person narrator is coaxed by her otherwise silent auditors at one point in the narrative to continue her revelation of all the horrors that have been forced upon her. Her delicacy makes her pause and consider the effects of the story on her audience. However, the audience, being comprised of her libertine sister Juliette and her lover de Corville, urges her to recount all:

Mais comment abuser de votre patience pour vous raconter ces nouvelles horreurs? N'ai-je pas déjà trop souillé votre imagination par d'infâmes récits? Dois-je en hasarder de nouveaux?

Oui,… dit Monsieur de Corville, oui, nous exigeons de vous tous ces détails, vous les gagez avec une décence qui en émousse toute l'horreur;

                         (de Sade 1986: III 240)

(But how can I abuse your patience by relating these new horrors? Have I not already more than soiled your imagination with infamous recitations? Dare I hazard additional ones?

'Yes,…' Monsieur de Corville put in, 'yes, we insist upon these details, you veil them with a decency that removes their edge of horror;'

               (Seaver and Wainhouse 1991: 670)2

Every tiny detail of libertinism, horror and misfortune must be recounted in this novel, and contrary to de Corville's justifications, Justine's narrative does not gloss over the horror of the repeated violations. Although the first-person narrator, Justine, has reservations about revealing all, in contrast to Lewis's later anonymous narrator, the reader of both tales is none the less compelled to adopt the same prurient role, having duly been warned by the narrators of the horrors that await. In relation to The Monk, David Punter has demonstrated how Lewis 'tries constantly to challenge his audience, to upset its security, to give the reader a moment of doubt about whether he may not himself be guilty of the complicated faults attributed to Ambrosio' (Punter 1996: I 79), and Punter's argument here is equally applicable to de Sade's Justine.

If de Sade's and Lewis's narrative techniques are both brutally revelatory, then their portrayal of their heroines are similarly so. Berger's use of the term 'vision' is of vital importance in the way that the heroines of both The Monk and the various versions of Justine are characterized. At the beginning of their novels, Lewis and de Sade both immediately create very pictorial images of their heroines. These images establish the heroines as modest, virginal, religiously devout and naive. Such textual characterizations are knowingly situated within an eighteenth-century literary tradition which equated feminine beauty and distress. In Les Malheurs de la vertu, for example, there is a moment when Justine describes the effect that her distress has on the monk Antonin:

La violence de mes mouvements avait fait disparaître les voiles qui couvraient mon sein; il était nu, mes cheveux y flottaient en désordre, il était inondé de mes larmes; j'inspire des désirs à ce malhonnête homme

                      (de Sade 1986: III 291)

(The violence of my movements had disturbed what veiled my breast, it was naked, my dishevelled hair fell in cascades upon it, it was wetted thoroughly by my tears; I quicken desires in the dishonest man)

               (Seaver and Wainhouse 1991: 720)

Here, Justine's self-depiction creates a tableau of distressed beauty which is, however, knowingly eroticized, revealing the tale's French literary heritage. For example, in Diderot's earlier novel La Religieuse (1780), the heroine Suzanne Simonin is similarly aware of the effect that she has on her male persecutors.3 This earlier heroine does, however, admit to some possible complicity on her own part, stating: 'Je suis une femme, peutêtre un peu coquette, que sais-je?' (Diderot 1961: 178) or 'Perhaps I am slightly flirtatious, who knows? I am a woman' (my translation). Diderot's Suzanne appears in many ways to be the French literary precursor to de Sade's Justine in her knowing admission of the desire she inspires in her persecutors. As such, she provides literary inspiration for both de Sade's and Lewis's critique of religion in her persecution by monks, and also in her confused couplings of her own beauty and distress with the desire that they inspire.

Such equations of beauty and distress inform, in turn, the construction of the English Gothic novel. The opening chapter of Ann Radcliffe's 1791 The Romance of the Forest (Radcliffe 1992) contains a similar scene. Here, through the focalization of a Monsieur La Motte, the heroine Adeline's features are described as having 'gained from distress an expression of captivating sweetness' and her clothes are described as having been 'thrown open at the bosom, upon which part of the hair had fallen in disorder' (Radcliffe 1992: 7). However, the crucial difference lies between the knowing eroticization provided by the female first-person narrators in the French novels, and the male-focalized third-person narratives that create these tableaux in the English Gothic novels.4

Our introduction to one of the principal female victims of The Monk, Antonia, confirms the spectatorial role into which Lewis's narrator forces us. When Antonia's veil is dislodged as she passes in the Church, we discover 'a neck which for symmetry and beauty might have vied with the Medicean Venus' (Lewis 1980: 9). What is more, through the focalization of the hero Lorenzo, she is also compared to an 'Hamadryad'. This choice of comparison is particularly telling and ironic: in Greek mythology, the Hamadryad is a tree nymph who dies when the tree dies. Inextricably bound in a symbiotic relationship, there is no autonomous existence for this creature. Desire is ineffably linked to the dual commodities of beauty and virginity in The Monk. Antonia is awarded attributes by her several admirers which can only be associated with purity. Therefore, once she is raped towards the end of the novel, she must die. Stripped of her perfect virginity, her most precious commodity in the eyes of the male, Antonia becomes as nothing.

Later in the novel, when Antonia has been fatally raped by the Monk Ambrosio, who claims that he has been seduced into violently raping her because of her perfect virginal beauty, she becomes simply a mirror who reflects his crimes. Ambrosio reproaches Antonia for his crime as follows:

What seduced me into crimes, whose bare remembrance makes me shudder? Fatal witch! Was it not thy beauty? Have you not plunged my soul into infamy? Have you not made me a perjured Hypocrite, a Ravisher, an Assassin! Nay, at this moment, does not that angel look bid me despair of God's forgiveness? Oh! When I stand before his judgement throne, that look will suffice to damn me! You will tell my Judge, that you were happy, till I saw you; that you were innocent, till I polluted you!

                             (Lewis 1980: 385)

Once Antonia's virginal integrity is shattered, her fragmented image mirrors Ambrosio's crime alone. The reproaches with which he loads her here are reminiscent of the blame that both Diderot's Suzanne and de Sade's second Justine inflict upon themselves. In all three cases, it is not the male authority figure to blame, but the female's irresistible beauty. Antonia's 'angel look' reminds Ambrosio of his irrecoverable sin, and shame and remorse subsume his previous identity as the pious, confident and irreproachable monk.

Antonia cannot survive the loss of her innocence in the textual space that this novel offers her precisely because of the unreality of her construction. In the eyes of the male characters, she is attributed solely the properties of virginal beauty, and, when this is taken from her, she mirrors only what passion has led Ambrosio to. Her death is a direct indictment of her textual establishment as an icon of modesty in the eyes of the male characters. Maggie Kilgour has commented that in the cases of both Ambrosio and Lorenzo, 'the attainment of sexual fantasies produces disgust, while the enlightened attempt to demystify only produces a deeper darkness' (1995: 160). This 'deeper darkness', as Robert Miles has suggested, is a consequence of the 'taboo territory' that their desire inhabits (1993: 27). This 'taboo territory' lies in the sublimation of their sexual fantasies within artistic representations of women.

Thus far, Lewis's novel has not really destabilized the connections between femininity, modesty and religion. If anything, it has reinforced them with the brutal death of Antonia. However, bearing in mind Teresa de Lauretis's point that 'to perform the terms of the production of woman as text, as image, is to resist identification with that image' (1984: 36), we will now turn our attention to the second female image in The Monk, offered by the demon lover Matilda. Matilda is important in this novel precisely because she seduces Ambrosio through his own constructions of the idealized female. By this, I refer to his key idealization of femininity as being necessarily equated with the Virgin Mary. When he has preached a particularly pious sermon, the monk Ambrosio returns to his cell to worship a portrait of the Madonna that hangs there. He congratulates himself on being above fleshly temptation:

'I must accustom my eyes to Objects of temptation, and expose myself to the seduction of luxury and desire. Should I meet in that world which I am constrained to enter some lovely Female, lovely … as you Madona …!'

As he said this, He fixed his eyes upon a picture of the Virgin, which was suspended opposite to him: This for two years had been the Object of his increasing wonder and adoration. He paused, and gazed upon it in delight.

'What beauty in that countenance!' He continued after a silence of some minutes; 'How graceful is the turn of that head! What sweetness, yet what majesty in her divine eyes!… Oh, if such a creature existed, and existed but for me!…

Fool that I am! Whither do I suffer my admiration of this picture to hurry me? Away, impure ideas! Let me remember, that Woman is for ever lost to me. Never was mortal formed so perfect as this picture … What charms me, when ideal and considered as a superior being, would disgust me, become Woman and tainted with all the failings of Mortality.

                               (Lewis 1980: 41)

Ambrosio's use of the words 'charm' and 'disgust', in reference to the Virgin and Woman, indicate his differing perceptions of the iconized Madonna and the reality of Womanhood. Women to him are tainted and impure: their presence threatens to taint him. It is gradually revealed to Ambrosio, however, that the image of the Madonna that hangs in his room, a painting that he venerates, is in fact a portrait of Matilda. Matilda herself, hitherto disguised as a novice, effects this shattering revelation. Matilda's declaration of love for Ambrosio occurs in parallel with her revelation of her true gender to him: she controls Ambrosio's responses and interests, just as she has controlled his desire for this portrait of the alleged Madonna. Equally, the gender-switch which she effects also disrupts Ambrosio's 'normative', heterosexual, desire for the portrait.

When Matilda, having nursed the dying Ambrosio back to health, gradually reveals her true identity as the woman portrayed in the portrait, Ambrosio's confusion over the idolized Madonna and the sexualized female is complete, and he falls prey to her desire. Ambrosio and Matilda embark upon a passionate sexual relationship where the monk's lust is given full vent upon her willing body. Their sexual relationship also involves their collusion in order to conceal it from the rest of the monastery. However, when Matilda begins to dominate their machinations, and coldly to plan their hypocrisy, Ambrosio begins to become disillusioned with her:

Left to himself He could not reflect without surprize on the sudden change in Matilda's character and sentiments. But a few days had past, since She appeared the mildest and softest of her sex, devoted to his will, and looking up to him as a superior Being. But now she assumed a sort of courage and manliness in her manners but ill calculated to please him … what she gained in the opinion of the Man, She lost with interest in the affection of the Lover.

                           (Lewis 1980: 231-232)

In order to remain sexually appealing to Ambrosio, Matilda should remain 'submissive' and, consequently, in his eyes, feminine. Ambrosio desires a reinforcement of the distinctions between male and female: he looks for someone to affirm his ideal of himself as a 'superior being' and confirm his elevated status in society. Matilda initially secures Ambrosio to herself by her very self-positioning as gentle and submissive. In order to continue to remain in his favour, such posturing should be maintained, but Matilda discards it once she has secured Ambrosio. It is only when Matilda discards submission that she, as the double of the Madonna portrait, no longer satisfies.

This thematic enjambment is fully explored by Julia Kristeva in her essay 'Stabat Mater' where she questions the supremacy of images of the Madonna in Western culture. She locates Mary and the Lady as: 'the focal point of men's desires and aspirations. Moreover, because they were unique and thus excluded all other women, both the Lady and the Virgin embodied an absolute authority the more attractive as it appeared removed from paternal sternness' (1986: 170). When Matilda transgresses the boundary of ideal, feminine behaviour and becomes masterful, she no longer doubles the Madonna portrait and consequently no longer mirrors Ambrosio's desires. She ceases to represent his image of an ideal love, and is thus replaced with Antonia, another virginal object. None the less, it is Matilda who is responsible in this novel for destabilizing the equation of woman and modesty, and, as such, she occupies an important space. By portraying Ambrosio's fatal passion as being so linked to his love of the Madonna, Lewis also effectively critiques the location of the Virgin Mary as an icon in Western culture.

This critique offered by Lewis seems to be supported by a significant addition that he made to the ending of the second edition of the novel. Following the outraged reception of the first edition of The Monk in 1796, Lewis added an extra passage to the ending of the second, third and fourth editions of the novel.5 In the first edition, the villainous monk Ambrosio is dashed to pieces and left to rot at the foot of a mountain by Lucifer, as a suitable punishment for his various crimes. The second edition kept that conclusion, but added a more moral note as the final closure to the tale:

Haughty Lady, why shrunk you back when yon poor frail one drew near? Was the air infected by her errors? Was your purity soiled by her passing breath? Ah! Lady, smooth that insulting brow: stifle the reproach just bursting from your scornful lip: wound not a soul, that bleeds already! She has suffered, suffers still. Her air is gay, but her heart is broken: her dress sparkles, but her bosom groans.

Lady, to look with mercy on the conduct of others, is a virtue no less than to look with severity on your own.

                              (Lewis 1796: III 314-315)

Recent editors of The Monk have chosen largely to ignore this addition, only acknowledg-ing its existence in a note upon the text. However, if we take into consideration the themes that we have just been exploring, it appears to offer a thematically tighter conclusion. By dwelling on the external appearances of two seemingly diametrically opposed female characters, named only 'Haughty Lady' and 'yon poor frail one', the author himself has cast two nameless women into stereotypical positions. However, Lewis has at the same time undermined this by his appeal for our compassion, and for external appearances to be mistrusted.

In this novel, a critique of the masculine tendency to veil the reality of the female presence is offered on several levels. One of these levels is the equation of the female form with artistic, religious representations of it. As Jerry Hogle has argued, 'all passionate desire in this book is really aroused, intensified, and answered by images more than objects or bodies, by signifiers more often than by signifieds or referents.' (1997: 1) The 'Haughty Lady' of this second edition, contrasted with the 'poor frail one' does not need a specific identity. Rather, she appears to signify the idealized versions of the Madonna, offered throughout this novel in various images, portraits and representations of women. She is also specifically contrasted with the 'poor frail one' who may represent the wronged heroines of this novel, wronged because of their unwitting similarities to the Virgin Mary.

In all, The Monk offers three core models of femininity that are both indebted to previous literary representations and intended to disrupt them. The first, Antonia, is a clear embodiment of previous literary representations drawn from, amongst others, Diderot, de Sade and Radcliffe. The second model, Agnes, who like Diderot's Suzanne is a nun who cannot disentangle herself from her orders, provides a remarkable representation of what happens when the flesh-and-blood reality of motherhood is neglected. The tale of her illegitimate baby, left to die on her chest as a 'suitable' punishment by her convent for fornication, is grotesquely realized. Finally, although Matilda is, as the Monthly Review noted in 1797, remarkably similar to Jacques Cazotte's devil Biondetta in The Devil in Love, she remains none the less a remarkable and unique indictment of the roles played by male desire in the previous models. Her ability to gender-switch, to posture submission when required, and her mimicry of the Madonna all undermine previous literary constructions of femininity. The character of Matilda incorporates Suzanne Simonin's knowledge of her effect on men and parodies the earlier Justine's naivety in Lewis's endeavour to untangle the links between femininity, desire and the Madonna.

In his critical work 'Idée sur les romans', first published in 1800 as a preface to Les Crimes de l'amour, the Marquis de Sade praised Lewis's The Monk for being superior, in every respect, to the brilliantly imaginative novels of Ann Radcliffe. Paradoxically, however, it was also in this same work that de Sade famously disclaimed his authorship of Justine, an assertion which he persisted in repeating throughout his life. In this essay, he protested, 'I have never written any such immoral works, and I never shall' (1970: 63, my translation). Given that de Sade had only recently published his third edition of his Justine tale, La Nouvelle Justine, his critical and literary personae appear to be clearly at odds with each other. De Sade the public author, who writes with such authority in 'Idée sur les romans' on Richardson, Lewis and Radcliffe, clearly wanted to dissociate himself from his own literary efforts. Perhaps such vehement denial was due to the fact that Alexandre-Louis de Villeterque identified the Justine novels as de Sade's and subsequently calumniated them in the Journal des arts, des sciences et de littérature (de Villeterque 1800). However, de Sade's very obvious admiration of Matthew Lewis in his own critical essay does appear to undermine his self-distancing from the immoral works of Justine.

La Nouvelle Justine, ou les malheurs de la vertu, suivi de l'histoire de Juliette, sa soeur was a work of ten volumes, with a hundred obscene engravings. It was supposedly printed 'in Holland' in 1797, although it was actually typeset in Paris by de Sade's publisher Nicolas Massé. However, Jean-Jacques Pauvert, one of the co-editors of de Sade's complete works, has raised justifiable questions about the date, 1797, and the order of publication of La Nouvelle Justine and L'Histoire de Juliette. He argues that the third Justine followed an earlier 1796 version of Juliette in August 1800 (de Sade 1986: VIII 18). This third reprisal of the story tripled the length of the second edition, and added yet more persecution and torture.

Given Pauvert's correction of the dates of La Nouvelle Justine, it appears highly probable that some of the much-admired Matthew Lewis's methods of inscribing virtue in distress had an impact on de Sade's revisions. In this third edition, for the first time the character Justine is denied the first-person narrative voice and the entire story is told in the third person. It is equally as important to note that this third version of the novel is not a Gothic novel. As Didier has noted, with this third Justine we witness an 'explosion' of the Gothic novel (1976: 106). Whereas in the previous two editions we had some sympathy for the unfortunate heroine, here, instead, the third-person narrator makes us entirely complicit in his mockery of Justine. Like the narrative voice at the beginning of The Monk which urges us not to encourage the idea that piety attracts people to church, de Sade's narrator in this final edition mocks the ineffectual piety of Justine. At one point, for example, he castigates religion for promoting self-interest (1986: 100); later he relentlessly pursues Justine for crying when her religious consolation is revealed to be illogical by the Comte du Bressac, stating that tears are 'la ressource du faible, en se voyant ravir la chimère qui le consolait', or 'the resource of a weak person, when they have their last source of consolation torn away' (1986: 141, my translation). In this final, more picaresque edition, de Sade finally achieved exactly the disruption of the idolized feminine form which he wished.6 What his libertine characters pursue with such violence are females who idolize the Madonna with such force that they are unwittingly seen to dress like her, and shown to act with a concomitant naivety that is breathtaking.

Why was de Sade so haunted by this tale that he revised it twice over the space of ten years? As with Lewis's novel, some of the answers lie in the portrayal of virtue in distress, and with the essential linkage of that virtue to religious piety. The narrator himself justifies this assumption on the very second page of this third edition, where he states that 'Il est essentiel que les sots cessent d'encenser cette ridicule idole de la vertu, qui ne les a jusqu'ici payés que d'ingratitude' (1986: IV 26). 'It is essential that fools stop worshipping this ridiculous idol of virtue, which until now has only repaid them with ingratitude' (my translation). What is interesting here is the deliberate confusion about the subject of de Sade's attack. Virtue as a concept is what he most wishes to denigrate for his readers; but equally, one could conclude that the 'ridiculous idol of virtue' could be his character Justine, made famous through the previous two editions of the novel, and clearly associated with both purity and religion. In all three editions, Justine's beauty is compared to that of Raphael's beautiful virgins. Like Lewis, then, de Sade makes implicit connections between Justine, virginity and painting. However, in contrast, his project is clearly stated at the very beginning of the tale. He wishes to use the character Justine to teach moralists a violent lesson about idolizing virtue. The subsequent linking of this virtue to specifically Catholic institutions such as monasteries display a disgust with the artifices and ornaments of the Catholic Church. De Sade's atheistic castigation of the ritualistic worship of artifices in the Catholic Church is remarkably similar to Lewis's Anglican-Protestant condemnation of the sensuality of this worship.

The trajectory of the unfortunate adventures of Justine involves successive encounters with different institutions. The foremost of these institutions in each edition is a monastery called SainteMarie-des-Bois where Justine goes to confess and be comforted by the monks. Justine's naivety, coupled with her religious fervour, makes her a desirable prey for the libertine monks who run this monastery, and want to admit her to their seraglio. A very detailed passage in the third edition, La Nouvelle Justine, describes Justine's confession:

Justine, éblouie par les illusions de son ardente piété, n'entend rien, ne voit rien, et se prosterne;…

Justine, immobile, fermement persuadée que tout ce qu'on lui fait n'a d'autre but que de la conduire pas à pas vers la perfection céleste, souffre tout avec une indicible résignation; pas une plainte … pas un mouvement ne lui échappe; son esprit était tellement élevé vers les choses célestes, que le bourreau l'eût déchirée sans qu'elle eût seulement osé s'en plaindre.

                          (de Sade, 1986: IV 249-250)

(Overcome by the illusions of her boundless piety, Justine hears nothing, sees nothing and kneels down;… motionless, certain that everything that she is subjected to has no other aim than to lead her step by step to celestial perfection, Justine suffers everything with an ineffable resignation; not one complaint passes her lips … not one movement comes from her; so much was her spirit transported on to a higher plane that her tormentor might have ripped her to pieces without her once even daring to protest.)

                                     (my translation)

This description situates Justine firmly on the side of innocence and piety, whilst simultaneously destroying this picture of innocence by describing the libertine monks' desecration of her. Thus fixed in her adoration of the Virgin Mary, Justine becomes blind to the immediate danger posed by the monks who lasciviously watch her devotions and undress her. De Sade firmly makes the point in this edition of the novel that it is precisely Jus-tine's obsession with the Virgin Mary, her fervent piety, which delivers her so easily to the cruelties of the monks of Sainte-Marie-des-Bois. Justine adopts the posture of the Virgin Mary, and the posturing incites the monks' violent desires. What the monks wish to attain, apart from sexual gratification, is the violent destruction of this virginal image by reminding Justine of her all too mortal qualities. Her innocence here appears to owe more to Lewis's portrayal of Antonia (who is shrouded in both a 'bandage of ignorance' as well as a 'veil of innocence' (1980: 264)) than to the more wordly wise characterizations of Justine in the two previous versions of de Sade's own text.

Both Matthew Lewis and the Marquis de Sade embarked upon disrupting the collation of the venerated Madonna and women. They both used fairly brutal methods to destabilize these connections in their texts. Lewis portrayed one lascivious monk who falls prey to a lustful demon who deliberately postures herself as the Madonna. De Sade's relentless destabilization comes through the successive and ever-more-brutal revision of a rape scene in a monastery where the heroine becomes so lost in her devotions to the Madonna that she forgets the real dangers which surround her. In de Sade's La Nouvelle Justine we, as readers, are brutally taught of the follies of Justine's posturing by being forced to laugh at both her innocence and devotion. Lewis's The Monk conveys its message in slightly different terms—one of these terms, as I have argued, lies in the addition of the 'Haughty Lady' to the subsequent editions, the other term is by teaching Ambrosio through damnation that the ideal and the real, such as the Madonna, doubled by Matilda and Antonia, must remain forever separate. In the words of Angela Carter: 'Even if it is the dream made flesh, the real, once it becomes real, can be no more than real' (Carter 1982: 201).


1. Anon. 1797a. Although this four-volume edition is translated anonymously, it has been identified, and is widely acknowledged on library catalogues, as having been translated by four different translators: namely, Jacques-Marie Deschamps, Jean-Baptiste Desprès, Pierre Vincent Benoist and Pierre Bernard Lamare.

2. Where available, I have used authoritative translations of de Sade's works. However, in the case of La Nouvelle Justine and 'Idée sur les romans', where no translations have been available, I have used my own. These instances are marked in the body of the text.

3. As Peter France has documented, Diderot in fact wrote La Religieuse in 1760. However, it was published in the Correspondance littéraire in 1780, though a teasing set of letters, which describe the circumstances of composition, had been made public in 1770 (France 1983: 37). The Monthly Magazine noted in December 1797 the translation of La Religieuse: 'Two novels have been translated from the French of Diderot, with considerable vivacity, "The Nun" and "James the Fatalist": in each of these works are some masterly delineations of character, but the pen of Diderot is not remarkable for its chastity' (Anon. 1797c: 518).

4. For a fuller exploration of the similarities and differences between The Romance of the Forest and de Sade's second Justine, see Clery 1994. Clery discusses the similar plot motifs of both novels, but demonstrates the two novels' entirely different philosophical approaches.

5. Lewis, of course, reserved the most significant changes to the text for the fourth edition of the novel, Ambrosio, or The Monk: A Romance (1798). However, the crucial addition to the ending is present from the second edition. The British Library carries an annotated copy of the third edition owned by Lewis where he wrote in the vital changes to be made. The copy makes for interesting reading not only because of the corrections, but also because of the bitter asides that Lewis has scribbled in. For example, a scribbled footnote to his 'Imitation of Horace' epigraph 'And when you find, condemned, despised, / Neglected, blamed, and criticised.' bitterly records of the novel's reception 'Neglected it has not been, but criticised enough of all conscience' (BL: C.28. b 4-6: iv).

6. I would justify my use of the term 'picaresque' for this final edition of the novel because the overarching am of the novel, thanks to the editorial inventions, is to satirize virtue, and its embodiment in the naive character of Justine, whose travels take her from master to master.


Anon. (1797a) Le Moine, traduit de l'anglais, 4 vols, Paris, Maradan.

Anon. (1797b) Monthly Review, 23.

Anon. (1797c) Monthly Magazine, December.

Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing, Harmondsworth, Penguin.

Botting, F. (1996) Gothic, London, Routledge.

Carter, A. (1982) The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, Harmondsworth, Penguin [1972].

Cazotte, J. (1772) Le Diable amoureux. Nouvelle espagnole, Naples and Paris, n.p.

Clery, E. J. (1994) 'Ann Radcliffe and D. A. F. de Sade: thoughts on heroinism', Women's Writing, 1:2.

Diderot, D. (1961) La Religieuse, Paris, Armand Colin [1780].

Didier, B. (1976) Sade: Une écriture du désir, Paris, Denoel/Gonthier.

France, P. (1983) Diderot, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Heine, M. (1973) 'Le Marquis de Sade et le roman noir', in A. Le Brun and J.-J. Pauvert (eds) Oeuvres complètes du Marquis de Sade, 16 vols, Paris, Société Nouvelle des Editions Pauvert.

Hogle, J. 'The Ghost of the Counterfeit—and the Closet—in The Monk', in Romanticism on the Net 8 (November 1997).

Kilgour, M. (1995) The Rise of the Gothic Novel, London, Routledge.

Kristeva, J. (1986) 'Stabat Mater', trans. L. Roudiez, in T. Moi (ed.) The Kristeva Reader, Oxford, Blackwell.

de Lauretis, T. (1984) Alice Doesn't: Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema, Bloomington, Indiana University Press.

Lever, M. (1991) Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, Paris, Fayard.

Lewis, M. G. (1796) The Monk; a Romance, 2nd edn, 3 vols. London, J. Bell.

――――――. (1797) The Monk; a Romance, 3rd edn, annotated copy: BL c.175. l13. 3 vols, London, J. Bell.

――――――. (1798) Ambrosio, or The Monk; A Romance, London, J. Bell.

――――――. (1980) The Monk; a Romance ed. H. Anderson, Oxford, Oxford University Press [1796].

Miles, R. (1993) Gothic Writing: A Genealogy, London, Routledge.

Punter, D. (1996) The Literature of Terror, 2nd edn, 2 vols, London and New York, Longman.

Radcliffe, A. (1992) The Romance of the Forest: Interspersed with Some Pieces of Poetry, ed. C. Chard, Oxford, Oxford University Press [1791].

de Sade, D. A. F. (1970) 'Idée sur les romans', Paris, Ducros.

――――――. (1986) Oeuvres complètes du Marquis de Sade, eds A. Le Brun and J.-J.

Pauvert, 16 vols, Paris, Société Nouvelle des Editions Pauvert [1800].

――――――. (1991) Three Complete Novels and Other Writings, trans. R. Seaver and A. Wainhouse, London, Arrow.

Schaeffer, N. (1999) The Marquis de Sade: A Life, London, Hamish Hamilton.

de Villeterque, A.-L. (1800) Journal des arts, des sciences et delittérature, 22 October.

Further Reading

(Gothic Literature)


Frank, Frederick S. "The Monk: A Bicentenary Bibliography." Romanticism on the Net 8 (November 1997).

Frank states: "[d]esigned to be consulted sequentially, the bibliography conducts a census of contemporary and historical criticism appearing in books, monographs, scholarly journals, and doctoral dissertations, with the eleven individual sections containing complete and compendious data except for Section VII, 'Eighteenth-and Nineteenth-Century Editions of The Monk' and Section IX, 'Chapbooks, Shilling Shocker Condensations, and Plagiarized Abridgements of The Monk,' which are selectively compiled and annotated."


Peck, Louis F. A Life of Matthew G. Lewis. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961, 331 p.

Comprehensive biography of Lewis.


Birkhead, Edith. "The Novel of Terror: Lewis and Maturin." In The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance, pp. 63-93. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company Publishers, 1921.

A chapter from what is considered one of the first significant studies of the Gothic movement, in which Birkhead centers on the terrifying, evocative, and melodramatic elements of Lewis's works.

Blakemore, Steven. "Matthew Lewis's Black Mass: Sexual, Religious Inversion in The Monk." Studies in the Novel 30, no. 4 (winter 1998): 521-39.

Argues that in The Monk Lewis subverts traditional religious and gender roles.

Gose, Eliot B., Jr. "The Monk." In Imagination Indulged: The Irrational in the Nineteenth-Century Novel, pp. 27-40. Montreal, Quebec and Kingston, Ontario: McGillQueen's University Press, 1972.

Undertakes a psychoanalytic survey of The Monk, noting its "unresolved tensions" of "sexual conflict, violated taboos, and self-destructive impulses."

Grudin, Peter. "The Monk: Matilda and the Rhetoric of Deceit." The Journal of Narrative Technique 5, no. 2 (May 1975): 136-46.

Assesses the "formal coherence" of The Monk, claiming that evidence for its structural unity exists in an interpretation of Matilda as a demonic being.

Hogle, Jerrold E. "The Ghost of the Counterfeit—and the Closet—in The Monk." Romanticism On the Net 8 (November 1997).

Maintains that "Lewis' daemonic novel has the shocking force in our culture that it still does, not because of the sexual license or the use of German sources in it so fervently attacked at the time, but because it enacts and thus partially exposes a particular cultural agenda of both its time and today that underlies and motivates what I call 'the ghost of the counterfeit' in the rise of the Gothic during the later eighteenth century."

Jones, Wendy. "Stories of Desire in The Monk." ELH 57, no. 1 (spring 1990): 129-50.

Illustrates how the narrative structure of The Monk and its social and political stance are related and declares that Lewis offers in his novel "a defense of the concept of individual desire and of the right to articulate that desire in both speech and action."

Kauhl, Gudrun. "On the Release from Monkish Fetters: Matthew Lewis Reconsidered." Dutch Quarterly Review 19, no. 4 (1989): 264-80.

Examines the motif of transgression as both a psychological and a political fact in The Monk.

Lydenberg, Robin. "Ghostly Rhetoric: Ambivalence in M. G. Lewis' The Monk." Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 10, no. 2 (April 1979): 65-79.

Investigates "Lewis's ambivalence toward his authorial responsibility" as moral judge in The Monk.

Mulman, Lisa Naomi. "Sexuality on the Surface: Catholicism and the Erotic Object in Lewis's The Monk." Bucknell Review 42, no. 1 (1998): 98-110.

Focuses on "Lewis's use of … objects (precisely the veil, mirror, lamp, rosary, face) as sites of religious, aesthetic, and social anxiety rather than substitutive or fetishized sexual desire."

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. "The Character in the Veil: Imagery of the Surface in the Gothic Novel." PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 96, no. 2 (March 1981): 255-70.

Studies works by Ann Radcliffe and Lewis's The Monk "to show that an analysis of the thematic attention to surfaces changes the traditional view of the Gothic contribution to characterization and figuration in fiction."


Additional coverage of Lewis's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 39, 158, 178; Literary Movements for Students, Vol. 1; Literature Resource Center; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 11, 62; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers; and Supernatural Fiction Writers.