Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa

Search / Site Map


A History of Horror

The Timeline

13th C     14th C

15th C     16th C

17th C     18th C

19th C

1900s     1910s

1920s     1930s

1940s     1950s

1960s     1970s

1980s     1990s


Horror in Theatre


Vlad Dracula

The Inquisition

The Danse Macabre


Hieronymous Bosch


Paradise Lost

The Marquis de Sade

Gothic Novels

Byron, the Shelleys and Frankenstein

The Monk

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

E.T.A. Hoffmann

Francesco Goya

Penny Bloods

Lewis Carroll

Shirley Jackson

Robert Bloch

Richard Matheson


Modern Horror

On the Page

On the Screen

Australian Genre


Tabula Rasa

The Monk files

Compiled by David Carroll

First Appeared in Tabula Rasa#4, 1994

The Monk, by Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775-1818). Also known as Ambrosio, or the Monk (Le Moine incestueux in French, which sort of gives away the ending). First published by Joseph Bell, London, March 12th, 1796.

What do you think of my having written, in the space of ten weeks, a romance of between three and four hundred pages octavo? I have even written out half of it fair. It is called The Monk, and I am myself so much pleased with it that, if the booksellers will not buy it, I shall publish it myself.
A letter to Lewis' Mother
September 23rd, 1794

We really do not remember to have read a more interesting production. The stronger passions are finely delineated and exemplified in the progress of artful temptation working on self-sufficient pride, superstition, and lasciviousness. The author has availed himself of a German tradition which furnishes an episodical incident, awful, but improbable. The whole is very skilfully managed, and reflects high credit on the judgement and imagination of the writer. Some beautiful little ballads are interspersed, which indicate no common poetical talents.

The Monthly Mirror
Vol 2, June, 1796

A female character is introduced as accomplished as the author could make her: she has an only daughter whose education occupies her whole attention, and who repays her by her great proficiency: this young Lady is discovered reading -- the holy scriptures are her study -- but she studies them in a manuscript of her mother's compilation; because, as we are gravely told, the sacred book itself is too full of gross indelicacy and indecency to be put into the hands of a virtuous young woman! What a pity that the author has not followed up this notable discovery, by presenting the world with a new edition of the Bible, purged of its immoralities by his own chaste hand, or that he had not at least referred us to those passages which in his opinion are so likely to pollute the mind of youth!

The Flapper
No. 55, September 1796

The language and manners of the characters are not sufficiently Gothic in their colouring, to agree with the superstitious scenery, borrowed from those times.

The Analytical Review
Vol 24, October 1796

Dined Lord Chancellors -- Loughborough, Windham, Pitt, Lord Chatham, Westmoreland &c. -- talk rather loose. I fear I was not guarded and grave enough. Much talk about The Monk, a novel by Lewis' son.

Diary of William Wilberforce
November, 1796

Mrs Madox tells me there is a book in the World called the Monk wch surpasses in Horror every possible -- & every Impossible Tale... His Gipsy Verses... put all our Gipsy Lines to Flight: they are exquisitely pretty to be sure, -- & the Incantation Scene is so sublimely Descriptive it amazes one: the Ballad of Alonzo ye brave is very fine too, & the Stanzas in a Hermitage exceedingly forcible... 'Tis a curst Book after all, full of every Thing yt shd not be anywhere.

Diary of Mrs Thrale-Piozzi
November, 1796

If it be possible that the author of these blasphemies is a Christian, should he not have reflected that the only passage in the scriptures, which could give a shadow of plausibility to the weakest of these expressions, is represented as spoken by the Almighty Himself? [Ezekiel 23] But if he be an infidel, he has acted consistently enough with that character, in his endeavours, first to inflame the fleshly appetites, and then to pour contempt on the only book which would be adequate to the task of recalming them. We believe it not absolutely impossible that a mind may be so deeply depraved by the habit of reading lewd and voluptuous tales as to use even the Bible in conjuring up the spirit of uncleaness. The most innocent expressions might become the first link in the chain of association, when a man's soul has been so poisoned; and we believe it not absolutely impossible that he might extract pollution from the word of purity, and, in a literal sense, turn the grace of God into wantonness.

The Critical Review
No. 19, February 1797
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

[Yes Sam, just keep taking the opium.]

That a gentleman by birth, who has given us proofs of a liberal education and considerable talents, and who was honoured, at his very entrance into manhood, with a seat in the venerated senate of his country, should have been guilty of so flagrant an outrage against decency and propriety... is a circumstance not the least remarkable in the history of the times.

Literary Memoirs of Living Author of Great Britain (1798)
David Rivers

Perhaps at this point we ought to analyse these new novels in which sorcery and phantasmagoria constitute practically the entire merit: foremost among them I would place The Monk, which is superior in all respects to the strange flights of Mrs Radcliffe's brilliant imagination. But that would take us too far afield. Let us concur that this kind of fiction, whatever one may think of it, is assuredly not without merit: 'twas the inevitable result of the revolutionary shocks which all Europe has suffered. For anyone familiar with the full range of misfortunes wherewith evildoers can beset mankind, the novel became as difficult to write as monotonous to read. There was not a man alive who has not experienced more misfortunes than the most celebrated novelist could portray in a century. Thus, to compose works of interest, one had to call upon the aid of hell itself, and to find in the world of make-believe things wherewith one was fully familiar merely by delving into man's daily life in this age of iron. Ah! The author of The Monk has avoided them no more than has Mrs Radcliffe. Here, there are perforce two possibilities: either one resorts to wizardry -- in which case the reader's interest soon flags -- or one maintains a veil of secrecy, which leads to a frightful lack of verisimilitude. Should this school of fiction produce a work excellent enough to attain its goal without floundering upon one or the other of these two reefs, then we, far from denigrating its methods, will be pleased to offer it as a model.

Idée sur les romans
(Reflections on the Novel)

Introduction to Les Crimes de l'Amour (1800)
The Marquis de Sade

But though that Garden-God forsaken dies;
Another Cleland see in Lewis rise.
Why sleep the ministers of truth and law?
Has the State no control, no decent awe,
While each with each in madd'ning orgies vie,
Panders to lust, and licens'd blasphemy?
Can Senates hear without a kindred rage?
Oh, may a Poet's light'ning blast the page,
Not with the bolt of Nemesis in vain
Supply the laws, that wake not to restrain

The Fourth dialogue: The Pursuits of Literature
Thomas James Mathias
July 1797

I looked yesterday at the worst parts of The Monk. These descriptions ought to have been written by Tiberius at Caprea -- they are forced -- the philtered ideas of a jaded voluptuary. It is to me inconceivable how they could have been composed by a man of only twenty -- his age when he wrote them. They have no nature -- all the sour cream of cantharides. I should have suspected Buffon of writing them on the deathbed of his detestable dotage. I had never redde this edition, and merely looked at them, from curiosity and recollection of the noise they made, and the name they had left to Lewis. But they could do no harm.

Journal, December 6th 1813
Lord Byron

The Monk attracted much notice and considerable disgust on account of its licentiousness: a prosecution was talked of, and we believe commenced: but on a pledge to recall the copies, and to recast the work in another edition, legal proceedings were stopped.

Obituary of M G Lewis
The Gentleman's Magazine
No. 88, August, 1818

I would give many a Sugar Cane
Monk Lewis were alive again

Lord Byron

[144] The Publication of The Monk: A Literary Event 1796-1798, André Parreaux, Didier, Paris, 1960.

[145] The Gothic Quest: A History of the Gothic Novel, Montague Summers, The Fortune Press, London, 1968.


©2011 Go to top