By Matthew Lewis
Published in 1796
A Classic Flashback
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
"An author, whether good or bad, or between both, is an animal whom everybody is privileged to attack; For though all are not able to write books, all conceive themselves able to judge them."
Matthew Lewis, even at the age of 19 when he wrote this classic Gothic romance in 1796, was able to accurately predict the reaction to his first novel. It was both praised and reviled by the critics. It was certainly controversial for its viewpoint of the church and only a little less so for passages that were considered erotic at the time. In most cases, they would only elicit a bit of amusement in today's' jaundiced eyes.
Yet The Monk does have its moments. The primary plot involves a monk who is seduced by a woman who entered his monastery disguised as a boy. He sinks into debauchery that include rape, torture and murder. These passages evoke the same kind of dread and horror that the reader would feel today. Lewis is best when writing about the more evil characters. The monk Ambrosia and his she-devil in crime Mathilda are fully developed villains.
But he is less interested in more mentally healthy protagonists. There is a romantic sub-plot involving the sweet and innocent Agnes, but his heroes and heroines tend to be...well...dull. I couldn't help thinking his heroes needed a few lap dances to get the sanctimonious ice out of their veins and his heroines could learn a little by watching a couple episodes of Desperate Housewives.
But overall, this was a fun read even if the dialogue tends to be overwrought to the point of silliness...which just goes to show that Gothic romances haven't changed much in the last 200 years.