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The Monk
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1001 Monthly Group Read > January {2011} Discussion -- THE MONK by Matthew Gregory Lewis

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Charity (charityross) It's Discussion Time!!


message 2: by Michelle (last edited Jan 15, 2011 09:48PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Michelle (fireweaver) | 104 comments anybody on the fence, you can get a free e-copy right here on gr. go to the book's page, and click "read book" to either read on your computer, or download a copy for your ereader.


Silver | 312 comments I have just finished the first volume of this story and so far I am really enjoying it. I find it quite entertaining as well as interesting. One of the things of which I really like about it, is the way in which it combines both Gothic elements with humur.

One of the things which I am noticing as a common reoccurring themes in this story is misunderstandings and misadventures in love which play in both amusing, as well as tragic ways. I really enjoy all the parallels between the various different romantic episodes which occur.


Amanda I'm actually enjoying it much more than I thought I would. The prose is edgy and exciting and the plot feels like it is lifted from previously unknown works of Chaucer and Shakespeare. I'm only about halfway so far (I got caught out by its epicness and didn't start it early enough to be ready for the discussion - although I don't seem to be the only one!)


Michelle (fireweaver) | 104 comments I'm only about halfway through, myself, and it's far more interesting than one would expect for an "old" book. way salacious, certainly no tight corset-stays here!

generally the random asides that veer off from the main plot for pages and pages would annoy me, but I'm vastly amused by all of them so far.


Carrie Ridgeway | 10 comments I downloaded this book from the Gutenberg Project to my Nook. I'm about a third of the way through the book and it is an interesting read. The writing style does not seem to be from the 1700's.


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

This was the third book I read just because it was on the list, and I adored it. I loved the style of the book and the mood. I am so glad I read it!


message 8: by Rosemary (last edited Jan 17, 2011 11:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rosemary | 88 comments Benjamin wrote: "Matthew Lewis was only 18 0r 19 years old when he wrote this masterpiece before becoming a franciscan monk himself. A very dark novel full of beauty and w..."

I don't think he ever became a monk, did he? It would be very surprising after writing this! According to the introduction to my edition, he became an MP (member of parliament), wrote plays and managed the estates that he inherited in Jamaica, before dying of yellow fever on board ship in his 30s.

I loved this book too. It was rarely tedious, unlike other gothic novels that I have read. I only had t skip over the poetry. The part set in Germany was a major digression but managed to develop its own impetus. I like the way he made me keep hoping that Antonia would somehow survive, even though you know she is doomed from the gypsy's prophecy in chapter 1.


Kristi (kristicasey) This is my first time actually being able to partake in the group discussion, because I could never find the books before. Now, I have a Kindle and I'm looking forward to actually participating.

I started "The Monk" last night, I'm about 20% in, and so far, I agree with everyone else. This is looking as if it'll be a very entertaining read.


Silver | 312 comments I was very surprised by the appearance of the actual Bleeding Nun, I did find that to be quite a haunting scene, her nightly visitations driving him nearly mad. I wonder if in fact it is a delusion, or the ghost has really come to haunt him.


Kristi (kristicasey) As of this evening, I'm 57% done and I am finding this story absolutely riveting! It's got everything!


message 12: by Michelle (new)

Michelle King (selenegonecrazy) | 7 comments Michelle wrote: "anybody on the fence, you can get a free e-copy right here on gr. go to the book's page, and click "read book" to either read on your computer, or download a copy for your ereader."

Thanks! I did this from my iPad and got it for kindle-ipad with no issues, thanks for the tip, and I'd better get reading!


message 13: by Amanda (last edited Jan 19, 2011 02:24AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amanda I was surprised by the actual appearance of the Bleeding Nun too, Silver (and I think Lewis did mean for her to be an actual apparition rather than delusion from the fact that he mentions the boy servant sees her getting into the carriage outside the castle). The reason this confuses me is because Lewis describes much of the more distasteful behaviour from the highly religious characters in the book to be 'superstitious', yet here Lewis is giving us an actual ghost to contend with! Is he trying to draw distinctions between superstition and reality, or muddle them?

He seems to be criticising people for acting unkindly through blind faith and religion and also has a character act kindly towards something supernatural, but something that they can actually see and feel – and a ghost with a less than pure past too. In contrast, Antonio's beliefs and treatment of transgressors may be devout, but hardly chivalrous! Is Lewis saying that society works better on pity than rigid structured (and superstitious) morality?


Silver | 312 comments Now that I have progressed further in my reading, yes it seems that she is indeed quite the literal ghost. I really enjoyed the presence of an actual supernatural element within the story, opposed to it ending up having a rational explanation, as often happens, or being just a delusion of his mind. When it first happened there was a part of me that wondered if it would turn out to be some trick against him to stop him from being with Agnes.

I agree that Lewis is trying to make a statement about the need for compassion, as well as a better tolerance and acceptance of human nature, and human weakness, and not being so rigid upon unrealistic moralistic high grounds, at the point in which they sacrifice true human feeling and human understanding.

As exampled with Ambrosio who has been sheltered from having to actually know any temptation himself, he had up to that point never been put in a position of having his beliefs tested, and because of that he made the mistake of thinking of himself as being supremely virtuous and lacked the ability to emphasize with those whom do have to struggle with temptations, and fall to human desire and human weakness. So when he discoverers Agnes and her secret when she tried to plead for mercy, Agnes begs him not to let compassion be the one virtue which he does not possess. It was his high minded virtue which made him cruel.

Than of course ironically at the first moment in which he is presented with an actual temptation he caves into it.

I also find it interesting that we are given the story of three different women all of whom became nuns (two against their will) and the tragic fates which they were doomed to meet which directly related to the constraints of the rigid morality of the religion. Even the Bleeding Nun who acted in some abhorrent ways in presented in a way to make one feel sympathy of what became of her. I think Lewis is making an appeal for human love and human passion. It does seem as if he is also making some statements about the vows of chastity and what an unreasonable expectation it is for someone to be forced to deny themselves love and affection of another human being.


Benjamin Zapata (booklover72) Rosemary wrote: "Benjamin wrote: "Matthew Lewis was only 18 0r 19 years old when he wrote this masterpiece before becoming a franciscan monk himself. A very dark novel full of beauty and w..."

I don't think he eve..."
Hi Rosemary,you're right about him not becoming a monk,he became a MP.I got the wrong information,but he did complete the novel before his 20s,in the space of 10 weeks.It's just an amazing novel,one of the best ever in any category,an eternal classic! Thanks for bringing to my attention my mistake!


Benjamin Zapata (booklover72) My favorite gothic novel ever,the best,....Matthew Lewis was only 18 or 19 years old when he wrote this masterpiece,in the space of 10 weeks.A very dark novel full of beauty and wonder,worth the time to read it at least two times in a lifetime.An eternal classic! The Monk is one of the most lurid and "tansgressive" of Gothic novels,and it's also the first book to feature a priest as the villain. A favorite of our own master of horror:Stephen King!


Kristi (kristicasey) Benjamin wrote: "A favorite of our own master of horror:Stephen King!"

I can definitely see why!


Silver | 312 comments I thought for sure that Antonia was really Matilda so I was quite surprised when now it seems that Antonia really is in love with Lorenzo and clearly isn't in the monastery.


Amanda Silver wrote: "I thought for sure that Antonia was really Matilda..."

What gave you this impression, Silver?


Silver | 312 comments Because when Anontia was first introduced she seemed to be so holy and pure, and she was so much affected by Ambrosio's preaching, I think she even made some remark about it cuasing something to stir within her of which she never felt before, and how he was the kind of man she would love. Also becasue both of them were described as being so beauitful.


Amanda I can see where you're coming from now Silver - though it didn't occur to me that Antonia was perhaps Matilda. Would have been an altogether rather different novel if they were one in the same!


Kristi (kristicasey) NicoleMichele wrote: "This story absorbed me. It was tough to step away because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. The action was constant. It's raging and macabre, but the unfolding of the plot is outst..."

I agree. I had a hard time setting the book down at all. And I was irritated when I had to.

I did see the bit about the monk's past coming, but I didn't see the devil's plot. That was an impressive ending.


Michelle (fireweaver) | 104 comments Rosemary, I likewise totally forgot the gypsy's foreshadowing, since Antonia escapes his clutches repeatedly right up until the very end.

NM, I'm with you on that ending, too. thought it was awfully forgiving for the woman spurned for the younger prettier model to be helping him out with his future conquest. I assumed she was just doing it to tempt him into his own demon contract, so she'd get the sign-on bonus points with hell and all. but the way it really played out, wow! how delightfully (borderline soap opera trashy, in fact!) over-the-top!


Tanya (aka ListObsessedReader) (listobsessed) | 108 comments I found this to be a lot of fun!! Which wasn't really what I was expecting as the book descriptions here on Goodreads really play up the more supposed disturbing elements of the story. Instead I found myself giggling at the wonderfully over-the-top dramatics going on. I was going to say it's almost to soap opera level but I've just realised Michelle has already said that! And over-the-top.. Oh well.

It was, however, over-the-top without being too overdone and there is definitely a good dash of romance thrown in with the gothic horror!


Amanda I found the ending a little strange. Why did the devil treat Ambrosio and Matilda so differently upon their corruption? There is no suggestion that Matilda suffers at all. Is she supposed to be some favoured servant or was she spared as long as the devil had use for her? And what is supposed to have come of Antonia spiritually? The 'everyone lived happily ever after' conclusion to the penultimate chapter seemed almost parodical.


Kristi (kristicasey) I think in the conversation the devil had with Ambrosio he (the Devil) implied that Ambrosio wasn't clever enough in what he bargained for. He only asked to be realized from the prison. Matilda was probably smarter than that.


Amanda Kristi wrote: "I think in the conversation the devil had with Ambrosio he (the Devil) implied that Ambrosio wasn't clever enough in what he bargained for. He only asked to be realized from the prison. Matilda was probably smarter than that..."

This is true. She did demonstrate many times how manipulative and controlling she could be, even seemingly commanding the agents of hell. Perhaps the devil met more than he bargained for in her!


Michelle (fireweaver) | 104 comments Amanda, i'm with NM on this one - matilda wasn't a real human person, she was a demon (or something to that effect). the devil has one throwaway line about her "i bad a subordinate but crafty spirit assume a similar form (to the madonna painting on the monk's wall), and you eagerly yielded..."


Amanda And now that quotation sounds familiar...it must have slipped my mind. I figured that was perhaps what Lewis was implying but couldn't recall any evidence. A very supernatural ending to contrast the repeated charge of 'superstition' in the first half of the novel...


message 30: by FrankH (last edited Jan 30, 2011 12:26PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

FrankH | 39 comments While the the three principal stories from the Monk may initially seem cut from the same cloth, the Ambrosio narrative book-ends the novel and delineates psychologically the progression of evil from mere vanity and narcissim to a complete abandonment of the soul. An indifferent world and the sometime presence of the supernatural acts upon the fates of Agnes/Raymond and Lorenzo/Antonia, with many of the plot details revealed from accounts of the past; with Ambrosio, seduced by the devil's agent Maltilda, the reader is anchored in the present and we see the Monk evaluate, hesitate, then succumb and succumb again, as the first encounter with the sins of the flesh unbalances, presaging the greater depravity to come. The chinks in the Monk's code of conduct, of course, manifest early with his eroticization of the Madonna but his full destruction develops incrementally -- even at the end Ambrosio is equivocating. Lewis deftly intersects the three plots but the power of the novel derives from making the interior story the narrative driver while using the other externalized tales to color and enrich.

Most readers, I expect, would understand this as a hybrid creation building upon a Gothic literary genre and reflecting intellectual currents and cross currents of European zeitgeist, circa the late 1700s. In the Monk, we get the anti-clerical sentiment of the Reformation and French Revolution with scenes of Inquisition torture that, in view of the crimes of Maltida and her lover, almost seem justified; the extended, delicate, circumscribing language attached to the presentation of male romantic passion (Lorenzo and Raymond) comes in the same package as direct, graphic imagery -- Margueritte's blood-stained sheets and Agnes' birth ordeal in the corpse-filled crypt -- that shocks and repulses. The transparency of the romantic motivation is counterposed by the devious quality of the religious and a lack of transparency in a physical world -- secret alchemy makes the living look dead and underneath the statue of the saint lies the dungeon to be leveraged for evil. While the story is set in Catholic Spain, many of the supernatural elements-- the bleeding nun, Wandering Jew, the references to the erl-king and water-king (Schubert lieder material) -- seem to come, like the early Gothics, from a Germanic origin, reason enough for the Baroness to figure prominently in the plotting. And though there is the suggestion near the end of the book that the forces for good -- the kindly, titled men rescuing the nuns from the mob -- are progressive in nature (i.e. no 'superstition'), there we are in the final scene witnessing Satan lifting the soul-less Ambrosio from the precipice and crashing him on the rocks to die six days later (a reference to Genesis?). It's not exactly superstition at work, but it's not the Enlightenment either.

Club readers with a greater background in Gothic writing can comment on whether these elements deviate from -- or are consistent with -- the genre, but I found the book a strange brew indeed. Perplexed by the novel's subtitle, I googled 'Romance' to find that an earlier, 18th century shading of term towards 'tales of courtly love' had given way to the 'eerie' sometime around 1800. Was The Monk a game changer? My thought is that Lewis' principal interest lies in rendering a good, spooky ghost story, with the envelope fully pushed, censors be damned. But, whether intended or not, I was moved by the plight of these characters, trying to find their way in a world where both the worldy and the other-worldly agents shaping their lives are so little understood, let alone influenced.


Silver | 312 comments I found the inconsistencies between the supernatural and superstitions to be a curious one within the book. As it seems in a way the author argues against himself about these things, and the characters themselves seem to have inconsistent views upon the subjects in which on one instance they are willing to accept the idea of a supernatural presence and yet in another instance they find folly in such beliefs.

As exampled when Ambrosio is asked to come to the house and purge it of Elvira's ghost and he does not find it credible that her ghost could really be present and that it must have just been an imagined fancy, and yet, he consorts with demons, or at least he has Matilda consort with demons for him. So believing in the supernatural presence of demons is more acceptable to him than presuming there could be a restless spirit lurking about.

As well, when they are going into the catacombs during the riot, when Lorenzo meets the group of nuns he thinks they are just being superstitions and silly for believing that the groans of Agnes are some supernatural presence, and yet when Raymond gave him his account of him and Agnes, and told Lorenzo of his encounters with and being deceived by and haunted by the ghost of the bleeding nun, Loreznso seems to accept the account without questioning it.

Throughout the book you have this play between the belief in the evil's of the superstitions of people and how their illogical beliefs cause them to act in cruel ways and how others suffer because they are so bound up in their religious fears. But on the other hand you have in fact the actual literal presence of supernatural forces at work, thus seeming to prove the very superstitions which are being criticized as being silly nonsense.


Rosemary | 88 comments Amanda wrote: "I found the ending a little strange. Why did the devil treat Ambrosio and Matilda so differently upon their corruption? There is no suggestion that Matilda suffers at all. Is she supposed to be ..."

I thought this was because he was a monk breaking his vows. Even if they committed the same sins, it would be a greater sin in him because of his vows. Matilda was a novice and had not taken vows yet.

I found it quite refreshing to come upon a tale where the man comes off worse than the woman in religious punishments ;-)


Sandi | 227 comments Amanda wrote: "I found the ending a little strange. Why did the devil treat Ambrosio and Matilda so differently upon their corruption?"
Rosemary wrote: "I found it quite refreshing to come upon a tale where the man comes off worse than the woman in religious punishments ;-)
"


Except that Matilda wasn't even human to start with, she was a spirit sent by the devil to tempt Ambrosio into committing all those crimes. Everything she did was on the devil's orders, to bring corruption upon the monk. How come so many readers seem to miss that? Had she been a real person, the story would have probably been very different, or not worked at all.


Becky (munchkinland_farm) | 248 comments Did anyone else find it amusing that the Monk's lust for Matilda dissipates after a week? Highly unlikely for someone who had not been sexual with someone else prior to Matilda. Clearly unnatural forces were at work! (and the story's timeline depended on him losing interest.)


Silver | 312 comments Becky wrote: "Did anyone else find it amusing that the Monk's lust for Matilda dissipates after a week? Highly unlikely for someone who had not been sexual with someone else prior to Matilda. Clearly unnatural f..."

It seems to be a pattern with Ambrosio, for the same happened with Antonia as well. I think it was a mix of both the loss of their innocence, well in the case of Matilida presumed innocence, and his own shame at his weakness and actions which turn him away from the women after he had slept with them.

It was both the seeming purity of Matilida and Antonia which attracted him to them, so when because of his own lust they lost that purity, they also lost their appeal to him.


Amanda Silver wrote: "It seems to be a pattern with Ambrosio, for the same happened with Antonia as well. ..."

I'm with Silver - his attraction to Matilda was based on her resemblance to the icon hanging on his cell wall. Matilda tempted Ambrosio by exploiting the pseudo-sexual devotion he was seen to show this symbol. Once he had defiled Matilda, she lost her shine and became something unworthy, a typical attitude men seemed to have of women they had 'known' out of wedlock.

His attitude to Antonia is similar - she was a conquest that instantly became befouled and diminished on achievement.


Christa Seeley (christajls) | 20 comments Amanda wrote: "I found the ending a little strange. Why did the devil treat Ambrosio and Matilda so differently upon their corruption? There is no suggestion that Matilda suffers at all. Is she supposed to be ..."

My guess would be that Matilda was a little smarter in her dealings with the devil. When it comes to Ambrosio he only promises to free him from prison and save him from the Inquisition. He later tells him he could've demanded for wealth, power etc. Given Matilda's powers of manipulation/self preservation from the beginning I betting she thought of some better conditions.


message 38: by Rosemary (last edited Feb 03, 2011 02:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rosemary | 88 comments Christajls wrote: My guess would be that Matilda was a little smarter in her dealings with the devil. When it comes to Ambrosio he only promises to free him from prison and save him from the Inquisition. He later tells him he could've demanded for wealth, power etc. Given Matilda's powers of manipulation/self preservation from the beginning I betting she thought of some better conditions.

Sandi is right, Matilda is not human but was sent by the devil to bring to life the Madonna portrait that Ambrosio was stuck on, and tempt him. So she never sold her soul or even had a soul to sell. It's so easy to miss this, as I did, it's just a couple of lines in a long speech by the devil right near the end. Michelle quoted it in message 31.


Philip Lane | 21 comments Good bit of story-telling, I did want to know what happened next BUT found it very hard to take it too seriously. I found the banditti more scary than the devil (I mean an 18 year-old beautiful naked man with wings - how camp is that??) and the mob or the Inquisition were crueller in exacting punishment. Also Dame Jacintha's attitude to the ghost is pure comedy. Seems more like a spoof than true horror.


message 40: by Amanda (last edited Feb 05, 2011 06:19AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amanda Philip wrote: "Good bit of story-telling, I did want to know what happened next BUT found it very hard to take it too seriously. I found the banditti more scary than the devil (I mean an 18 year-old beautiful nak..."

...and now I can imagine a Seth McFarlane parody, thanks Philip!

Seriously though, I do agree with you Philip. I did mention earlier that some parts did feel a little parodical, especially the very quick and clean wrapping up of the side-story with almost comical 'and they lived happily ever after' style. Perhaps Lewis meant this to be a satirical farce the readers might find amusing (he does seem to have a rather irreverent attitude to traditional religion throughout) or maybe its just the modern reader looking back on conventions of past writers that have become corny with time.


Michelle (fireweaver) | 104 comments I took the ending as pretty much a product of its times: the virtuous are rewarded while the sinners are damned. I do think it was more than a little tongue in cheek, though. then again, after all the hauntings, being trapped in nunneries, and drugged rapes, our "good" characters deserve to catch a break!


message 42: by Ali (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ali (alike) | 2 comments I was surprised that there were genuinely creepy moments in this, even to a modern reader. Agnes nursing her dead baby for months? Wow. Throughout the book I found myself thinking it would make a great horror film.


Christa Seeley (christajls) | 20 comments Ali wrote: "I was surprised that there were genuinely creepy moments in this, even to a modern reader. Agnes nursing her dead baby for months? Wow. Throughout the book I found myself thinking it would make ..."

Agreed!


message 44: by Gini (new) - rated it 2 stars

Gini | 138 comments Amanda wrote: "I found the ending a little strange. Why did the devil treat Ambrosio and Matilda so differently upon their corruption? ..."

Matilda was never a human being. She was a demon. I was not confused by this because I figured it out from the moment she went into the crypt to exact her cure.

I found the book entertaining in a gothic way. I was actually surprised that Agnes managed to survive - not because I ever thought she was actually dead, but because the nature of the book seemed headed toward destruction of all the characters. But her survival was essential for the happiness of the one of the two heroes, so I guess I should have expected it.

I disliked the late introduction of Virginia as the substitute wife for the other hero, because it really emphasized the fact that the women characters were unimportant and the men were the only ones whose happiness really mattered.


message 45: by Gini (new) - rated it 2 stars

Gini | 138 comments Also, was there any hint of the incest angle before Lucifer "Mwa-ha-ha-ed!" it at the end?


Amanda Gini wrote: "Also, was there any hint of the incest angle before Lucifer "Mwa-ha-ha-ed!" it at the end?"

Not that I recollect, Gini.

Also, as I've said before, I was a little amused (is that the right word?) by the comically sentimental round-up of the supporting cast's storyline. The introduction of Virginia annoyed me a little too as it seemed to suggest that most women are more or less interchangable. Maybe I was reading too much into it!


Tanya (aka ListObsessedReader) (listobsessed) | 108 comments Gini wrote: "Also, was there any hint of the incest angle before Lucifer "Mwa-ha-ha-ed!" it at the end?"

Both Antonia and her mother expressed the feeling that Ambrosio was very familiar to them and that they had either seen or heard him speak before, though it was 'impossible', so I guess that was a hint of kin recognising kin.


message 48: by Gini (new) - rated it 2 stars

Gini | 138 comments Tanya wrote: "Both Antonia and her mother expressed the feeling that Ambrosio was very familiar to them and that they had either seen or heard him speak before, though it was 'impossible', so I guess that was a hint of kin recognising kin."

Ah, yes, these was that hint. Rather small to foreshadow such a thing, but at least it wasn't completely out of left field.


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