(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Whenever Father Ambrosio speaks in the church, all Madrid goes to hear him. He is the most learned, the most virtuous, and the most admired monk in the city. Such is his purity that he will tolerate no sin in others, and he berates the worshipers viciously. In the audience one day is a young woman named Antonia, who comes to Madrid with her mother to seek the financial aid of their relative, the Marquis Raymond de las Cisternas. At the church, Antonia meets Lorenzo de Medina, a wealthy young nobleman who, charmed by her sweetness, promises to petition Raymond in her behalf. Before he leaves the church, Lorenzo sees Raymond and learns that he is the man who supposedly spurned Lorenzo’s sister Agnes and caused the heartbroken girl to enter the convent of St. Clare. Lorenzo challenges his former friend, but Raymond begs him to hear the story and then make his judgment.

The marquis does not know the fate at that moment befalling Agnes. Father Ambrosio intercepted a note written to Agnes by Raymond, acknowledging that the child she will soon bear is his and laying plans for her escape from the convent. Ambrosio summons Mother St. Agatha, the prioress, and Agnes is carried away to torture and probable death. The young girl begs Ambrosio for mercy, but he is cold to her pleas. Then she curses him, calling on him to remember her when he himself yields to temptation.

Ambrosio is to remember Agnes’s words when he yields to the passions of Matilda, an evil woman who disguises herself as a novice at the monastery and who is known to the monks as Rosario. Ambrosio struggles with his conscience, but his lust overcomes him and he surrenders completely to Matilda. He cannot let the monks learn that a woman is in the monastery, however, for then he will be exiled and reviled by all who now honor him.

After hearing Raymond’s story, Lorenzo forgives his friend for his supposed betrayal of Agnes. Agnes entered the convent of St. Clare in sorrow after she was persuaded by unscrupulous relatives that Raymond deserted her. Raymond found her there and by bribing the gatekeeper managed to see her each night. When she found that she was to have his child, she sent a note to him; it was his note, in reply, planning the escape and their subsequent marriage, that Ambrosio intercepted. Neither Raymond nor Lorenzo is aware of the fate that befell her, and they plan to rescue her together.

Before the proposed rescue, Lorenzo pays court to Antonia. Her mother, Elvira, fears, however, that his family will not permit his union with a girl without noble family or fortune, and she begs him not to call again until he secures his family’s permission to marry Antonia. He is unable to consult his family until after his sister’s rescue. When Agnes does not appear at the appointed time, Lorenzo goes to the convent and demands to see her. For several days, Mother St. Agatha tells him that...

(The entire section is 1186 words.)