The Monk is an important work of literature in the gothic genre, as it utilizes all of the characteristics of gothic literature. The author, Matthew Lewis, went to great lengths to include every aspect of the gothic novel, from gothic architecture to the Wandering Jew into his book. Unfortunately, Lewis’s inclusion of all these aspects made the story hard to follow and somewhat dull. Nonetheless, the book is an incredibly precise representation of a true gothic novel, and is accurately defined as a classic piece of gothic literature.
Investigating The Monk
The first usage of the word “Goth” was a label for a Germanic tribe who waged war upon the Roman Empire (De Vore, Domenic, Kwan, & Reidy). Centuries later, it reached a new classification as a type of architecture (De Vore, Domenic, Kwan, & Reidy). The so called “gothic” architecture was a type of European architecture that was prominent from the twelfth to sixteenth centuries (Melani). However, it originally referred to any non-Classical style architecture (Melani). “Barbaric and definitely not of the Classical style,” was the explanation of gothic architecture as seen by the Uomo Universale (De Vore, Domenic, Kwan, & Reidy). The architecture used upward movement in order to suggest heavenward inspiration (Melani). It was brought back into style during the eighteenth and nineteenth century as a reaction to the classic style that was popular during the Age of Reason (Wikipedia “Gothic Fiction”). The common occurrence of gothic architecture’s presence in the newly formed gothic literature, gave it the name of “Gothic” (Wikipedia “Gothic Fiction”). In addition, many of the first gothic writers were fascinated with the architecture and had mansions built in that style (Melani). Both Horace Walpole and William Beckford spent fortunes on building their own personal imitations of gothic architecture (Melani). Horace Walpole built Strawberry Hill as a replication of a gothic castle and William Beckford built an imitation of Fonthill Abbey (Melani). The gothic architecture gives off sensations of gloom similar to the vibes of the authors and their novels.
Gothic novels are often centered around the extraordinary and supernatural, putting emphasis on mystery and horror ("Gothic Novel" Encarta). They often have haunted rooms, secret passages, and hidden stairways ("Gothic Novel" Encarta). No gothic novel is without some sort of spooky or sinister dwelling (Harris). A true gothic novel includes a “gothic architectural setting”, an “atmosphere of mystery and suspense”, an “ancient prophecy”, “omens”, “portents”, “visions”, “supernatural or otherwise inexplicable events”, and “a woman or women in distress”, who is often “persecuted by a powerful and tyrannical male”, and are often “highly emotional” (Harris). “Other prominent features of gothic fiction include terror (both psychological and physical), ghosts, darkness, death, decay, doubles, madness, secrets, tyrants, villains, bandits, maniacs, Byronic heroes, persecuted maidens, madwomen, magicians, vampires, werewolves, monsters, demons, ghosts, the Wandering Jew and the Devil himself” (Wikipedia “Gothic Fiction”).
The gothic novel usually centers on the protagonist’s fall from grace as she succumbs to the temptation from a villain (De Vore, Domenic, Kwan, & Reidy). Antonia, in The Monk, is the perfect example of this (Lewis Vol. 3, Ch. 4). Although in the end she realizes Ambrosio’s true intentions, at first she is quite taken by him and falls completely under his spell (Lewis). It isn’t until the end, that she realizes his evil intentions, when he spirits her away to the dungeons, where he keeps her hostage against her will (Lewis Vol. 3, Ch. 4).
Gothic literature gets its name from gothic architecture. Thus the presence of gothic architecture must appear in the story. This means that the story takes place in a castle or other form of gothic architecture (Harris). The castle is often in ruins and haunted, there are secret passages and/or stairways that lead to hidden rooms or caves (Harris). These settings are meant tocreate feelings that add to the haunting atmosphere (Harris).
The setting is greatly influential in Gothic novels. It not only evokes the atmosphere of horror and dread, but also portrays the deterioration of its world. The decaying, ruined scenery implies that at one time there was a thriving world. At one time the abbey, castle, or landscape was something treasured and appreciated. Now, all that lasts is the decaying shell of a once thriving dwelling(De Vore, Domenic, Kwan, & Reidy).
The Monk shows this element through the use of the Castle of Lindenberg, which holds the mystery of the Bleeding Nun (Lewis Vol. 2, Ch. 1).Also there is the convent in which the nuns reside called St. Clare. Both are somewhat mystical one with the presence of a ghost and the other with hidden and mystery catacombs underneath.
Most gothic novels contain an element of the supernatural, although some turn out to be perfectly natural events (Harris). The Bleeding Nun, as well as the Wandering Jew, is present in The Monk (Lewis Vol. 2, Ch. 1). Many other forms of supernatural events also occur within The Monk, such as Ambrosio’s enchantment which gives him magical access to Antonia’s house in order to rape her (Lewis Vol. 3, Ch. 1).
The gothic novel is a subtype of romance, thus the lady in distress is always a prominent figure in the book (Harris). The women’s innocence is often threatened by a male antagonist (Harris). In The Monk, both Agnes and Antonia represent the heroine figure (Lewis).
There is often an omen and/or prophecy that is put into place, either through a family curse or the fortunes of a gypsy (Harris). Along with prophecies, there are often visions that are seen by the characters, showing disturbing images of things to come (Harris). In the book The Monk, Antonia has her fortune told by a gypsy saying that she was on the brink of destruction (Lewis Vol. 1, Ch. 1). The gypsy foretold her loss of innocence and her death (Lewis). It is a mysterious and suspenseful omen with a slight touch of the supernatural and puts in place the background for the rest of the book. (Lewis).
The settings, along with the rest of the book, must create an atmosphere of suspense and mystery (Harris). Thus it will include an element of either terror, horror, or both. In the book, The Monk, Ambrosio’s unknown parentage sets an air of mystery around the book (Lewis Vol. 1, Ch. 1).
The intent of the gothic novel is to create feelings of “gloom, mystery and suspense” (Melani). Gothic novels are meant to inspire feelings of terror and horror within us (Wikipedia “Gothic Fiction”). One of the most important aspects of the gothic novel is to push the reader’s emotions to the extremes (Wikipedia “Gothic Fiction”). A variety of tactics are used in the effort to create feelings of extreme disgust and revulsion (Wikipedia “Gothic Fiction”). These tactics vary from certain word choices to various plot developments.
One of the ways that increase the emotion, is how highly emotional the characters are (Harris). They are subject to sudden and impulsive bouts of passion in which they get caught up in their feelings and don’t think rationally (Harris). In addition, the females tend to faint easily, especially when confronted with an unsuspected presence or occurrence (Harris). The villain in The Monk, Ambrosio, is very dramatic, letting his passions overwhelm his common sense. It is especially revealing, as Lewis shows us Ambrosio’s inner thoughts (Lewis). Through this look at his workings and inner turmoil we come to the understanding of the intensity and variances of his passion, from devotion to his religion, to his desire for sex (Lewis; LitCrazy).
The villain or antagonist is often the epitome of evil (De Vore, Domenic, Kwan, & Reidy). In The Monk, Ambrosio’s deepest thoughts are revealed, and the internal workings of his mind are penetrated and translated as our eyes skim the pages (Lewis; LitCrazy). The processes that his thoughts take are astounding and show us the path from being considered a creation of perfection and being idolized by millions, to turning into a creature of unspeakable evil (Lewis).Ambrosio continually falls deeper and deeper into the pit of evil and eventually signs a contract with the devil in order to prevent himself from being punished for his sins (Lewis Vol. 3 Ch. 5).
In addition to these other elements, gothic novels also use a certain vocabulary in their writing (Harris). It is used in order to manipulate the feelings in the authors intended direction (Harris). They tend to use words like ominous, agony, horrid, sorrow, wretched, infernal, diabolical, incensed, wrathful, vast, and raving (Harris). Gothic novels are also very Anti-Catholic, and tend to be a subtype of both romance and parody (Wikipedia “Gothic Fiction”). The Monk is very critical of the Catholic Church and includes the Inquisition as the bloody persons that make up the imagination of so many gothic novel writers (Lewis).
The differences between terror and horror are widely debated in gothic literature. Many critics claim that gothic literature uses two different styles, one being horror, and the other being terror (Melani). However, past that point, no one has come to an agreement as to what is classified as terror and what is classified as horror (Melani). The following are some of the varying opinions on terror vs. horror.
Terry Heller: “Terror is the fear that harm will come to oneself. Horror is the emotion one feels in anticipating and witnessing harm coming to others for whom one cares (Melani).”
Peter Penzold: “I consider as pure tales of horror all those stories who[se] main motifs inspire physical repulsion, as opposed to what Blackwood calls ‘spiritual terror’. The feelings these tales produce is one of loathing and disgust, rather than true terror and awe (Melani).”
Ann Radcliffe: “Terror and Horror are so far opposite that the first expands the soul, and awakens the faculties to a high degree of life; the other contracts, freezes and nearly annihilates them….And where lies the difference between horror and terror, but in the uncertainty and obscurity that accompany the first, respecting the dreading evil (Melani)?”
Many writers of gothic novels were, as Lord Byron’s spurned lover said, “Mad, bad, and dangerous to know” (Wikipedia “Gothic Fiction”). They weren’t exactly considered within the norms of society (Wikipedia “Gothic Fiction”). Which is not very surprising as generally the books, such as Matthew Lewis’s novel The Monk, are a “lurid tale of monastic debauchery, black magic and diabolism” (Wikipedia “Gothic Fiction”). In my opinion, you can generally make the assumption that the authors of such a disturbing genre could have some sort of mental instability.
Despite the disturbing feelings of the genre, it did not die out as humanity became more “civilized.” In fact, the gothic genre has increased and infected many parts of society, growing more and more every year. “Closer to the present, one sees the Gothic pervading Victorian literature (for example, in the novels of Dickens and the Brontës), American fiction (from Poe and Hawthorne through Faulkner), and of course the films, television, and videos of our own (in this respect, not-so-modern) culture (Norton).” The gothic genre has continued on in many forms from writings, to poems, to movies. There are at least twenty new horror movies created each year, with millions flocking to see each one. Society continues to crave those feelings of horror that make our bodies cringe in disgust, and the gothic novel continues on.
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