In 1796, Matthew Lewis published one of the most controversial novels ever written. The Monk was a masterpiece but was very controversial for many reasons. One of which, was the idea that the monk, Ambrosio, would commit several horrific sins that would lead him to be damned to hell forever and break the very vows he once spoke of in the face of God. He did not commit these sins entirely by himself, but through the work of Matilda, a character created through the crafty devil. He broke all of his vows he once cherished and prided himself on so much. I am going to show what led Ambrosio to the court of the Inquisition by examining both characters and how they worked together throughout the novel to end up in horrific mess in the face of the Inquisition.
Ambrosio's problem is that he is not a good candidate for being a monk. His personality is very contrary to what it is to become a monk. He was dropped off at the abbey and was brought up within the church. He was a man of great pride and charisma. In the first chapter Lewis explains how Ambrosio is perceived by everyone awaiting his sermon, "
some were attracted by curiosity to hear an Orator so celebrated
" (Lewis 7). Ambrosio was a very popular man and much loved and respected. While most of Madrid did not show to hear him, some at least did. This shows that Ambrosio had a certain charisma that he carried with himself. A lot about Ambrosio is described to us in the first few pages when he is giving us a sermon. Lewis describes him as: He was a man of noble port and commanding presence. His stature was lofty and his features uncommonly handsome
Still 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 and penetrating. Such was Ambrosio, Abbot of the Capuchins and surnamed, The Man of Holiness.' (18) The audience is in awe the entire time that Ambrosio is giving his sermon. It takes a certain type of person to be able to quiet an entire room church full of people during a speech while they are loud and talkative beforehand. As Ann Campbell said in her article, "However pious the audience appears during Ambrosio's sermon, they return to their former selves as soon as he stops speaking" (1). The audience has great respect for Ambrosio as the "Man of Holiness" (18), and he delivers his respected image back to the audience.
Lewis even goes as far as suggesting that Ambrosio is someone higher and better than the rest of the characters, even perhaps a god-like figured. Antonio says "Of that I have myself no doubt: By all accounts he is an exception to mankind in general, and envy would seek in vain for a blot upon his character" (22). Lewis has described Ambrosio now as someone who is far above the rest of the characters in the story, and can be described as a god-like figure. In this quote, he is described as someone who has the respect of the community. The author spends a great deal of time describing Ambrosio in the beginning of the story because of the need to bring us a level of respect for him.
While Lewis gives us descriptions of Ambrosio, a critic, Kauhl Gundrun has suggested that virtually all information given regarding Ambrosio's humble status and his god-like presence is "based on appearance only" and lacks a detailed description by Ambrosio or those close to him, only by the general audience and what they see (Gundrun 2). Ambrosio is described as a very intelligent and profound man. However, Ambrosio is not described in terms of his self-experience, which Gundrun argues is virtually non-existent to the reader (2). This critic is explaining that perhaps Ambrosio is not all as Lewis is explaining and if the reader picked up on this early it is clear as to what his main character faults are. Gundrun does have a valid point. A little further into the novel, Ambrosio is in his cell by himself admiring a picture of the Virgin Mary: "
this for two...
Bibliography: Campbell, Ann. "Satire in The Monk: Exposure and Reformation." Romanticism On the Net 8 (November 1997) [17 November 2003] http://users.ox.ac.uk/~scat0385/satire.html
Ellis, Kate Ferguson. The Contested Castle. Chicago: University of Illinois, 1989. 131-150.
Grudin, Peter. "The Monk: Matilda and the Rhetoric of Deceit." The Journal of Narrative Technique 5.2 (1975): 136-146.
Gundrun, Kauhl. "On the Release from Monkish Fetters: Matthew Lewis Reconsidered." Dutch Quarterly Review 19.4 (1989): 264-280.
Lewis, Matthew. The Monk. London: 1796.
Lydenburg, Robin. "Ghostly Rhetoric: Ambivalence in M.G. Lewis ' The Monk." Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 10.2 (1979): 65-79.
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