When The Monk first appeared in 1796, critics were shocked and outraged. That a Member of Parliament should publish a novel filled with blasphemy, rape, murder, incest, rotting corpses, and devil worship was unthinkable and unprecedented. But efforts to suppress the book failed, readers loved it, and it became a worldwide bestseller. Today it is regarded as one of the finest Gothic horror novels ever written.
M.G. Lewis's novel - written when he was only nineteen - centers on Ambrosio, a monk renowned for his piety, who finds himself faced with temptation when his passions are aroused by Matilda, a beautiful girl who has entered the monastery disguised as a boy. But after he succumbs to her charms, Ambrosio's lust for sensual gratification quickly becomes insatiable, and he begins a precipitous descent into depravity, indulging in sorcery, demonic rituals, rape, and murder as he seeks to sate his unquenchable desires. . . .
This definitive edition of The Monk reprints the unabridged text of the three-volume 1796 first edition from the copy in the British Library and features an introduction by one of the most popular and acclaimed horror writers of our time, Stephen King. Also included are six lurid full-page illustrations from the 1797 and 1807 Paris editions of the novel, along with a portrait of the author and a reproduction of the original title page.
black & white illustrations
black & white illustrations
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A thoroughly nasty horror story, written some two hundred years ago, "The Monk" is an account of the fall from grace of a prideful Spanish monk who is renowned as a preacher and confessor in Madrid. The English, anti-Catholic, "Black Legend" of the Spaniards breathes on every page, with corrupt churchmen, wicked, homicidal nuns, dungeons and the Inquisition all on parade. The story of the Monk's decline, under strong diabolical temptation, from pride, to lust, to dishonesty, rape, and finally murder is vividly told. The moral creeps in, perhaps against the author's wishes, that all men, not just Spanish monks, may be undone by Satan's wiles. The Prince of Darkness himself puts in an appearance at the end, carrying the Monk off to his final ruin. The writing is uneven. Some of the story-telling is very well done indeed, especially a rather lengthy digression into an adventure mostly unrelated to the main plot. The horror descriptions of dungeon and torture are OK...
The Monk (first issued in three volumes in 1796) by Matthew Lewis (1775-1818) is one of the pinnacles of the Gothic literary movement.
Given the age of the work, The Monk is surprisingly highly readable yet today and Lewis opens the book with a stunning contrast. Crowds have gathered in Madrid for the third sermon of Ambrosio, the abbot of the Capuchin monastery. "All who have heard him are so delighted with his eloquence, that it is as difficult to obtain a place at church, as at the first representation of a new comedy... he is known through all the city by the name of The Man of Holiness."
The reader's first indication that Ambrosio is far less than the faultless person the general populace imagines him to be comes from Lewis' sly description of the man when first he appears to deliver his sermon and the narrator states: "there was a certain severity in his look and manner that inspired universal awe, and few could sustain the glance of his eye, at once fiery...
Just as THE MOONSTONE is considered to be the first "modern" mystery novel, some critics view THE MONK as the first modern horror novel. Whether or not that is true, it certainly took the gothic novel to a new level. Unlike practitioners of suspense, Lewis bludgeons the reader with evil & supernatural events. The last chapter is quite good horror. I once read a version of it that stressed the point that so long as life remains, one is not beyond God's saving grace. In that version Lucifer taunts Ambrosio with that knowledge as he destroys him. That version makes it clear that the last chapter could be reworked into a fine horror story, avoiding multiple pages of florid prose. However, this was written in the late 1700's when florid prose was all the rage. It is therefore, I believe, unfair to criticize the novel on that count. The prospective reader should also be aware that the term romance as applied to writing did not then mean the same as it does today.
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