The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Monk: A Romance consists of two intersecting plots along with about thirty interpolated minor stories. Both main stories are introduced simultaneously in the opening scene at the Capuchin Cathedral, where a crowd has gathered to hear Ambrosio preach. He is abbot of a prestigious monastery and reputed idol of Madrid. The narrative splits after the sermon into the story of Ambrosio’s temptation and the related adventures of two pairs of lovers—Lorenzo de Medina and Antonia Dalfa, and Raymond de las Cisternas and Agnes de Medina.

Lorenzo, who first meets Antonia during the sermon, lingers afterward and sees a cloaked figure deposit a letter under a statue. He discovers that this figure is his friend, Raymond. In a story that takes up a quarter of the novel, Raymond recounts how he fell in love with Agnes, Lorenzo’s sister, at Lindenberg Castle, and how her aunt, Rodolpha, became jealous and forced Raymond’s departure.

Up to this point, the novel is realistic in its social commentary and criticism. The narrative expands into the supernatural as Agnes plots to escape from Lindenberg by posing as the ghost of the Bleeding Nun. Her plan goes awry, and Raymond escapes with the ghost herself, while Agnes is sent to the Convent of St. Clare in Madrid. Eventually ridding himself of the ghost, Raymond sets out to find Agnes, who was the intended recipient of his letter. Ambrosio discovers this letter and the fact that Agnes is...

(The entire section is 519 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Church of the Capuchins

Church of the Capuchins. Elaborate religious complex in Spain’s capital city, Madrid, with multiple interconnected institutions. Typical of churches in gothic fiction, this one has a monastery with secret tunnels that lead to a nearby convent, which is itself built over top of a deep catacomb that serves as a burial ground and a prison. This novel made significant changes to the gothic novel genre. In the first place, most novels before this one were set in either France or Italy; this one, however, made use of Spain and was thus able to tap into longstanding English hostility to Spain and to Roman Catholicism. For instance, Matthew Gregory Lewis chose a cathedral as the centerpiece setting of his novel and linked various other institutions to it: The villain, Ambrosio, is the abbot of a nearby monastery; his female counterpart, a tyrannical mother superior, dominates a linked convent. With the use of this setting, Lewis presents Spain as a country in which “superstition reigns with . . . despotic sway.” Everything about Spain, from the point of view of this novel, revolves around either repressed sexuality or religious hypocrisy.

Nowhere is this more true, according to Lewis, than in the main monastery. Ambrosio is represented as the archetype of repressed sexuality, and the setting is to blame. As Lewis puts it, Ambrosio’s naturally powerful character might have led him to virtue and greatness in...

(The entire section is 576 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Andriano, Joseph. “The Feminine in The Monk.” In Our Ladies of Darkness: Feminine Daemonology in Male Gothic Fiction. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993. Provides a Jungian reading of the novel, demonstrating a movement from the sublime (the Madonna in the form of the demoniac Matilda) to the supernatural (the Bleeding Nun).

Conger, Syndy M. “Sensibility Restored: Radcliffe’s Answer to Lewis’s The Monk.” In Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression, edited by Kenneth W. Graham. New York: AMS Press, 1989. Notes that The Monk stands apart from the norm of the horror fiction of its time because it makes explicit what writers like Radcliffe implied, shocking the sensibilities of both writers and readers.

Kendrick, Walter. The Thrill of Fear: 250 Years of Scary Entertainment. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991. Discusses the value of The Monk in its own time as a success and scandal. Emphasizes the novel’s influence on Nathanial Hawthorne, Mary Shelley, E. T. A. Hoffman, and other writers through the late twentieth century.

Lyndenberg, Robin. “Ghostly Rhetoric: Ambivalence in M. G. Lewis’ The Monk.” Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 10, no. 2 (1979): 65-79. Asserts that the use of Beatrice, the Bleeding Nun, suggests that the Bleeding Nun’s ghost is a mere stock device and a composite of clichés.

Watkins, Daniel P. “Social Hierarchy in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk.” Studies in the Novel 18, no. 2 (Summer, 1986): 115-124. Discusses the social hierarchy that evolves in the novel, using the monastery and the Inquisition as the norm invaded by the supernatural.