(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Although invented by Horace Walpole (The Castle of Otranto) in 1764, the gothic novel flourished especially in the 1790’s, a period in England dominated by concerns over the French Revolution. The English response was conservative and reactionary, marked by fears of a loss of faith in the established authority of government, church, law, and family. Gothic novels of this period can be read as part of this general reaction.

Lewis claimed to have written his only novel in a period of ten weeks in 1794. Evidence from his correspondence suggests, however, that he spent at least two years compiling materials for the work. When it was published in 1796, Lewis was twenty years old and at the beginning of his short career as a dramatist. The novel itself at first was praised but subsequently was attacked for being indecent and blasphemous. Such attacks increased its notoriety and popularity, and four editions were issued between 1796 and 1798, the last being bowdlerized by Lewis in response to negative reviews. The work has appeared under various titles, including Ambrosio: Or, The Monk, Rosario: Or, The Monk, and Rosario: Or, The Female Monk.

Although seen by its critics as a dangerously subversive work, The Monk responds to the terrors of revolution by demonstrating that an absence of individual and institutional restraint leads to a chaos of uncontrollable desires and irrational behaviors threatening...

(The entire section is 455 words.)