Tag: Church

The Monk by Matthew Lewis

Posted July 30, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Gothic / 0 Comments

The Monk by Matthew LewisTitle: The Monk (Goodreads)
Author: Matthew Lewis
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1795
Pages: 456
Genres: Classic, Gothic
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When The Monk was first published in 1796 it was surrounded by heated hatred and scandal. One critic claimed that The Monk was full of “Lust, murder, incest, and every atrocity that can disgrace human nature”; a line that now seems to commonly appear in the synopsis. While this novel is a transgressive gothic novel and possibly one of the first books to feature a priest in such a villainous way there is so much more going on within the pages. To begin, we must look at the context, and it is not surprising that this novel had so much anger towards it when it was released. The reader has to understand that this novel was released in a period of time where everything was changing. The church still played a huge role in English society but across the channel the French Revolution was raging on, so in the middle of a changing society came a novel that tried to explore the political and religious authoritarianism of the church.

The Monk is set in a sinister monastery in Madrid, were Ambrosio struggled between maintaining his monastic vows and falling to temptation. We follow this monk as desire turns to obsession, to rape and then murder in order to conceal the guilt. Ambrosio is a celebrated and devout monk of 30 years but we read his downfall due to desire and pride. This novel is a social commentary of everything wrong with the church as the author sees it. The Monk follows the story of Ambriosio’s disillusion, from a well-respected Monk, serving God to a psychologically scared man.

Matthew Lewis wrote this novel at 19 years old and I think it is important to mention that I don’t view The Monk as an indictment of God or the Church but more critique of the corrupting power that comes with the priesthood. When I read this I got the impression that Lewis wanted to explore the hidden struggles that come with the vows of a monk as well as the effects of power. When we think about all the evil the church has done, it is not God or religion that is to blame but rather the people. Guilt and power can corrupt and essentially we are looking at a man going to great lengths to disguise his transgressions.

This is not an easy read and I found myself struggling at times to get through this book but there is so much going on I found it hard to believe that when this was first published it was dubbed this gothic classic to be crude and lacking of depth. In the heavily censored edition of this novel published in 1798 saw all words like lust and desire removed from the text. Even words like enjoyment were removed and any mention of sex; I can’t imagine how the essence of The Monk would have remained with this heavily edited edition. While there was plenty of hatred toward the novel, the critics seemed to have mixed feelings towards it. Samuel Taylor Coleridge both praised and judged harshly in his article found in The Critical Review, saying “[the] underplot… is skilfully and closely connected with the main story, and is subservient to its development” and “The Monk is a romance, which if a parent saw in the hands of a son or daughter, he might reasonably turn pale.”

However The Monk looks at more than just the monastery, it even looks at what seems like an anti-feminist movement going on within the Church. The convent seems like a harsh place to live, the women brutally treated and never allowed to succeed. Woman are seen as the downfall of the monks and other woman but there is so much lust, desire and sexual misconduct that happens inside the walls of convents and monasteries. Matilda posed as a man in order to get close to Ambrosio, at first it wasn’t to seduce but to bask in his brilliance. She is portrayed as a she-devil but is it really her fault that Ambrosio gave into his earthly desires. As one critic stated “It is Ambrosio’s sexual ignorance and hence ‘innocence’ that makes him vulnerable to Matilda’s seduction” (Blakemore, 1998). This made me ponder and question the whole approach to life in a monastery, especially in an era where priests are more likely to be sexually ignorant.

I’ve mentioned a few times that The Monk was met with hatred and I think this is still true today; people tend to see the book as anti-religious, anti-Catholic and immoral but this is a problem with taking text to literally. The Monk is a satire and socially critiques the church in what feels like a comedic kind of approach. It happens that this is also a transgressive gothic novel so we have a very brutal and dark approach to the themes Matthew Lewis wants to explore. Near the start of the book I read the line “She was wise enough to hold her tongue. As this is the only instance known of a Woman’s ever having done so, it was judged worthy to be recorded here” and thought it was a little harsh; I soon began to see a real tongue in cheek approach emerging from this dark novel.

I started off thinking this was a gothic novel and it was going to be dark and serious but I soon found myself adjusting my approach. Once I got past my initial misconceptions I started to settle into this book and ended up really enjoying The Monk. It took a while to get into a groove and found the first part of the book to be particularly difficult to get through. Then the plot started to settle in and I was able to explore the themes and enjoy the journey I was taken on. I’m so glad I finally got around to reading this gothic classic, it is weird but wonderful. I hope everyone else enjoys it as much as I did.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Posted September 29, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken FollettTitle: The Pillars of the Earth (Goodreads)
Author: Ken Follett
Series: The Pillars of the Earth #1
Published: Pan Macmillan, 1989
Pages: 1088
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The Pillars of the Earth follows the building of a cathedral in the town of Kingsbridge, England in the middle of the 12th century. Set during the time of King Stephen and the Anarchy, it explores the lives of Tom Builder and his family as he finally gets to achieve his dream of being master builder for a cathedral. There are forces that are working against the completion of this church for reasons of power and greed.

Ken Follett was an author of trashy thrillers before turning his hand to the epic novels. So it is not surprising that the novel attempts to explore themes of intrigue and conspiracy against this historical event. I’ve only ever read one other Follett novel (The Eye of the Needle) and while I thought this was a better book they are very similar.

One of the biggest problems I had with both novels is Ken Follett’s approach to women. In particular his creepy schoolboy approach to breasts, I’m not saying I’m not a fan but the way Follett’s writes about them, reminds me of George R. R. Martin and Haruki Murakami. I don’t know about you but it felt like every woman in Kingsbridge has massive breasts and if they didn’t they will be forever alone. On the plus side they won’t be raped either; but all the large breasted women ended up married and the flat chested ones were left for bigger boobs.

One of the positives of this novel was the cathedral; it was the most interesting character in the whole novel. We get to witness the rise in gothic architecture in the Romanesque age and I found the insights into the architectural evolution were so interesting. This seems to be the most researched part of the novel and I think was the only reason to read this book.

My wife loves this novel and I can see why people will enjoy this novel but considering that her favourite novels include this and Outlander makes me worry. She seems to be interesting in epic novels with incredibly flawed men. I hope she isn’t trying to tell me anything but I can appreciate her passion towards these epics.

Every man in the novel seems overly flawed with the exception of the asexual Prior. I know Follett’s loves sexual frustrated men and he struggled to write Prior Philip’s so he decided to make him completely uninterested in sex. Which is a huge contrast to every other male in the book. At times I had to stop reading this novel out of frustration but managed to power through.

I think if you really love this epic you don’t mind how long this novel is but if not this feels like it could use a good editing. This book sits at over a thousand pages and there is so much padding that could have been cut out to bring this book back down to at least 750. The themes in this novel didn’t feel like they were executed properly; there are many medieval novels that talk about the corruption of the Christian church, abuse of power, greed and gender politics. What The Pillars of the Earth did that felt unique was explore passion and base an entire novel around the construction of this one cathedral. The passion and architecture is the key to this book and really without them it would have just been a thriller written as a historical novel.

While I had a lot of problems with The Pillars of the Earth, I did like parts of this novel and enjoyed raging at the other parts. I can know join in on the cultural conversation for this novel, but maybe I’m too late for this. I read Twilight for the same reason and do enjoy raging in reviews but I can’t say this was a bad read. I respect everyone who loved this book and I’m not saying that because my wife loved it, I just can see what would interest people here.

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

Posted September 19, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Gothic / 0 Comments

The Castle of Otranto by Horace WalpoleTitle: The Castle of Otranto (Goodreads)
Author: Horace Walpole
Published: Penguin, 1764
Genres: Classic, Gothic
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Conrad, the heir to the house of Otranto, died under mysterious circumstances on the day of his wedding. His father, Manfred, lord of the castle, who feared the end of his dynasty, was determined to marry his son’s betrothed. However as Manfred tries to marry Princess Isabella, she escapes to a church and a number of supernatural events stand in his way. These terrifying omens soon threaten this unlawful union, as the curse placed on Manfred’s ancestor, who usurped the lawful Prince of Otranto, begins to unfold.

The Castle of Otranto established the Gothic as a literary genre and inspired Ann Radcliffe, Bram Stoker, Daphne Du Maurier and Stephen King. The Castle of Otranto has a unique blend of psychological realism, supernatural terror, guilty secrets and unlawful desires but I read this book as a critic on marriage. In 1773 The Marriage Act was passed, an act that is also known as “An Act for the Better Prevention of Clandestine Marriage”. The act was successful in preventing marriages not performed by an Anglican clergyman but also this act didn’t apply to royalty.

This act was passed eleven years before The Castle of Otranto was published and considering the fact that Horace Walpole was the Member of Parliament for Callington (1741–1754), Castle Rising (1754–1757) and King’s Lynn (1757–1768), I get the sense that he would have had strong opinions on the topic. From some quick research on Horace Walpole, I know that he had a strong interest in social and political issues. We can’t overlook his sexuality either, Walpole never married or had relationships with women; some claim he was asexual but I tend to side with the people that claimed he was a homosexual. Some of his closest friends including Anne Seymour Damer and Mary Berry are apparently lesbians as well. This information and the reading of this novel led me to interpret the fact that Walpole was against The Marriage Act.

Let’s look at the novel, Manfred was planning on ending his marriage with Hippolita and marry the much younger Isabella. The introduction of the Marriage Act (despite this book being set sometime between 1000 and 1200) meant that the marriage would have been easier to achieve and Isabella’s fear of Manfred more realistic. Putting aside Isabella’s reluctance to the marriage, there were also the supernatural events (the Church) standing in his way, in which I interpreted as the church still being against clandestine marriage despite it being possible for Manfred. I read the entire book as a metaphor of society and the church standing in the way of a desired marriage. This brings me to an interesting thought; Lord Manfred is considered the antagonist on the novel, portrayed as being deranged but I viewed this as the social view of homosexuality at the time.

There is so much more I can talk about here, like the archetype of Gothic characters (involving heroes and anti-heroes) and the setting (the Castle). While I have talked about Manfred, I want to quickly talk about Isebella and the castle. When Isebella tried to escape she turned into the outsider, a person thrown out of her community; this could also be used as a metaphor for Walpole’s feelings and sexuality. When she escaped she used the underground passages of the castle, which invokes all the characteristics of the Gothic genre; the darkness, obscurity, vastness, and the terror that may arising. Yet the castle and its mysterious characteristic could be a motif for Horace Walpole’s loneliness in the universe.

I won’t go into any more symbols, themes or motifs or this would turn into a really long review. My main interpretation of this novel is clear and I hope I have given you enough to back up my claims. While this isn’t my favourite example of Gothic literature, it was a great read and while short, there is a lot to digest. For all Gothic fans, I recommend checking out The Castle of Otranto; this is an excellent example of the gothic form.