Year of Reading Dangerously: The Monk part II


When last we saw our cast of characters, Ambrosio was locked in Matilda’s illicit embrace, she having saved him from the viper’s poison through witchcraft; we have heard the tale within a tale of Don Raymond’s adventures, and Agnes was presumed dead, although Lorenzo was still searching the convent for her daily. In the second half, The Monk continues to be melodramatic and overwrought, but a lot of fun.  

Ambrosio immediately upon satiation, begins to regret his actions. “He reflected on the scene which had just been acted, and trembled at the consequences of discovery: he looked forward with with horror: his heart was despondent, and became the abode of satiety and disgust: he avoided the eyes of his partner in frailty.” (193)  So, like many modern villains, it is not a true repentance of the act which we find in Ambrosio, rather a fear of getting caught. Interestingly, he moves quickly in the next few pages from frequent and ardent relations with Matilda to using her merely for physical satisfaction. Matilda becomes almost loathsome to him and he blames her, as does Lewis, for his downfall.  Matilda goes from virgin maid pretending to be a monk to be near her beloved to a seductress versed in the dark arts of sorcery. By page 229, Matilda has turned procuress for Ambrosio, whose lust has been excited by the fair Antonia. Matilda not only gives him an enchanted mirror through which he may watch Antonia, but provides him with a specially empowered myrtle branch which will not only allow him entry into any door and thus into Antonia’s private chamber, but will also render her senseless and allow Ambrosio to rape her without consequence. Ambrosio has embraced a Faustian bargain, but one which will only doom Matilda, who has sold her soul to help procure his way with Antonia.  Ambrosio himself doesn’t pay the price for his own debauchery. Lewis uses Ambrosio’s thralldom to his sexual desires to make several misogynistic statements. Matilda condemns him for having a mind “weaker than a woman’s” (230) and Ambrosio chides her with, “Oh! Cease, Matilda! That scoffing tone, that bold and impious language is horrible in every mouth, but most so in a woman’s.” (231) There are more, but you get the idea. It’s all her fault–she seduced him. Not only that, but any weakness in mind or spirit is portrayed as feminine in nature, even when man is the weak one. [sigh]

We leave Ambrosio impatiently waiting to use his magic myrtle after midnight and go to Theodore, Don Raymond’s servant, who alone seems to possess the wherewithal to come up with a plan to find out what happened to Agnes. In a nod to the story of Richard the Lionheart, who, according to legend, was discovered by a minstrel who sang and waited to hear Richard echo him, Theodore sings, but hears nothing.  However, he is able to convince a couple of nuns to come clean and tell him that Agnes had been poisoned by the mother superior. Don Raymond’s hopes dashed, he proceeds to fall into despair.

Meanwhile, Ambrosio enters Antonia’s bedroom without incident. There’s just one problem.  The myrtle branch doesn’t work on Antonia’s mother, who discovers him almost in flagrante and threatens to sound the alarm. Unfortunately, because she knows that no one will believe her story if she doesn’t have another witness (HINT: she’s a woman, who would listen to anything she says or believe her without corroboration?), she ineffectually hangs on his arm and tries to wake the maid. Ambrosio panics and murders her, fleeing the room and returning to Matilda.

As Lorenzo vows to have his revenge on the murderer of his sister Agnes, Ambrosio plots to kidnap Matilda, fake her death, and have her as his prisoner in the catacombs beneath the Abbey. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! These two plots climax in tandem when Raymond inadvertently sets off a riot by unmasking the supposed murderers of Agnes. He chases after some nuns who are running into the tombs and hears cries coming from deep within. Meanwhile, Ambrosio and Matilda have drugged Antonia and faked her death–she lies in a sepulchre and he waits for her to wake so he can take what he wants. Ambrosio rapes Antonia disregarding her pleas for mercy and for him to return to his right mind. Afterward, it isn’t long before they hear the rioters approaching. Ambrosio flees as Lorenzo discovers Antonia.  The lovers are reunited, but she is damaged goods and does the only thing she can–dies after proclaiming her love to Lorenzo. He is suitably heartbroken, but soon has cause for wonder in his discovery of Agnes, still alive! She has been kept prisoner in the catacombs.

The last chapter ties up the loose ends by filling in the backstory of what happened to Anges and finding a new match for Lorenzo of appropriate rank and wealth.  All’s well that ends well.

There is a lot to discuss here, especially in relation to Northanger Abbey. I will just bring out a couple of points.  First, there is a section in which women’s reading is addressed–specifically Bible reading. Elvira, Antonia’s mother, believed that, “unrestricted, no reading more improper could be permitted a young woman.” (223) She had gone so far as to write out a special copy of the Bible in her own hand, altering or omitting the improper parts. (!) This section was removed by Lewis in later editions to avoid charges of blasphemy, but it offers an intriguing window into his view on women, as does his treatment of Matilda–pious virgin turned Satan’s handmaiden. Lewis’s mother was somewhat unconventional and these passages, along with some of his other commentary make one wonder if he had Mommy issues.

Second, there is a section in chapter 9, where Antonia is sitting alone after her mother’s death.  It is late at night, there is a storm, and she is reading the Ballad of Alonzo the Brave and Fair Imogene–in which Imogene is faithless to her crusading knight.  He returns as a ghost to haunt her, etc. So, she’s reading a “horrid tale,” it’s a dark and stormy night, the doors are rattling, the wind is howling.  It is now that she sees Ambrosio dressed as a ghost. She tries to call for Flora, her maid…remind you of anyone? Maybe someone named Catherine? “With such a turn of mind.” (273) “Antonia’s heart throbbed with agitation; her eyes wandered fearfully over the objects around her…” (274)  You see what I mean.

Next up:  The Mysteries of Udolpho; I can’t wait!

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