In essence: Ambrosio is very holy monk until he gives into lust, greed and pride. He descends into vice and pretty much screws life up for everyone else. Except Matilda, whose evil plan it may have been all along.
Have you ever finished a book and not known quite what you think of it, or yourself?
I still don’t know what I think of The Monk.
A shopping list of Gothic Horrors.
There was not just rape, but incestuous rape. Not just one virgin locked in a crypt, but two. And mere demons weren’t sufficient so Satan himself appeared. Not just once, dear readers, but a multitude of times.
The book was a one stop shop for evil nuns, bloated corpses, skeletons (in crypts and family closets), ineffectual heroes, devils, mob violence, witches and swooning maidens.
Bizarrely, what I really liked were the moments of comedy. There were, unexpectedly, several.
The old woman convincing herself that the two gallant knights are flirting with her and not her sixteen-year-old charge was expertly done. Lewis had a great eye for picking out the ridiculousness in people and situations. This is brilliantly demonstrated in his opening scene.
Although enjoyable, those farcical moments also made the excessive horror feel burlesque in some places. It may have been the eighteenth century language, but it often felt like the characters were deliberately enjoying their own wickedness too much to be taken completely seriously. Or maybe Lewis was.
I kind of enjoyed it too. Mostly.
When ‘n0’ means ‘yes’ and ‘leave me alone’ means ‘drug me and lock me in a crypt.’
I was conflicted about Ambrosio, the monk of the title. He’s an abandoned orphan who has known love or society except that found in the monastery. This was all promising start for my tender heart, although Ambrosio’s history makes him easy pickings for the devilish Matilda.
‘Oh look, a woman’s breast. Ok, I’ll sleep with you. Once wont hurt, right?’
It’s not quite that simple, but once Ambrosio fell he fell fast and hard (*coughs*) and kept declining at a steady pace.
There were moments when Lewis captured Ambrosio’s inner moral wrangling beautifully. There were other moments when, partly due to cultural differences but mostly because he was a toad, I wanted to beat Ambrosio to death with his own crucifix.
He repulsed me, and what made him truly horrific was his willingness to take advantage of his position of power. Kind of like a religious Littlefinger, but with less charisma.
I hated Ambrosio. Yet, as he launched his lecherous pursuit of Antonia, I turned another page. And another.
Just as I need to see the credits at the end of a particularly disturbing horror movie, I had to see if this character got his come-uppance. (No spoilers here. Don’t look at the woodcut.)
Ambrosio’s descent from holier-than-thou to criminal sex fiend and murderer made me think about the gulf that sometimes emerges between who we hope everybody thinks we are, and the person we are capable of becoming given the right pressures. Ambrosio’s one true fear was not that God would find out what he’d done, but that society would.
I can almost sympathise with that. I want to be the person who can read this classic text with appreciation for its context and the moral issues it displays. It’d also be cool if I could make some witty observations and you would all applaud and leave lots of comments.
Alas, I actually gobbled it up like Catherine Morland, squealing with horrified delight every time Ambrosio crept an inch closer to satisfying his demonic desires.
I would highly recommend this book. I think.If you do choose to read it, I advise wrapping it in a brown paper bag between sittings.
This is a Readers Imbibing Peril post, and there’s still time to get in on the spookiness (until October 31st). It covers books, films and games in the horror (and associated) genres. The very cool and kooky picture is by Abigail Larson.