The Failure of Gothic: Problems of Disjunction in An Eighteenth-Century Literary Form

By Elizabeth R. Napier | Go to book overview

5 Cross-purposes: The Monk

When, in the course of the Procession of St Clare, the Mother St Ursula mounts the dazzling throne of St Clare and reveals the extent of the Prioress's crimes against Agnes, she voices what appears to be one of the main themes of The Monk: 'Mine', she says, 'is the task to rend the veil from Hypocrisy, and show misguided Parents to what dangers the Woman is exposed, who falls under the sway of a monastic Tyrant.'1 Lorenzo, a few pages earlier and using the same language of unmasking and revelation, contemplates the procession with the same urge to expose the hypocrite and enlighten a populace too easily duped by the semblance of virtue:

Conscious that among those who chaunted the praises of their God so sweetly, there were some who cloaked with devotion the foulest sins, their hymns inspired him with detestation at their Hypocrisy. He had long observed with disapprobation and contempt the superstition, which governed Madrid's Inhabitants. His good sense had pointed out to him the artifices of the Monks, and the gross absurdity of their miracles, wonders, and supposititious reliques. He blushed to see his Countrymen the Dupes of deceptions so ridiculous, and only wished for an opportunity to free them from their monkish fetters. That opportunity, so long desired in vain, was at length presented to him. He resolved not to let it slip, but to set before the People in glaring colours, how enormous were the abuses but too frequently practised in Monasteries, and how unjustly public esteem was bestowed indiscriminately upon all who wore a religious habit. He longed for the moment destined to unmask the Hypocrites, and convince his Country men, that a sanctified exterior does not always hide a virtuous heart.2

Lewis's adoption of the language and imagery of masking throughout The Monk suggests his association of vice and concealment, his conviction that to the innocent 'Vice is ever most

____________________
1
Matthew Lewis, The Monk: A Romance, ed. H. Anderson ( London, 1973), p. 350.

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