The Monk: Original Text, Variant Readings, and "A Note on the Text"

The Monk: Original Text, Variant Readings, and "A Note on the Text"

The Monk: Original Text, Variant Readings, and "A Note on the Text"

The Monk: Original Text, Variant Readings, and "A Note on the Text"

Excerpt

The monk is one of the authentic prodigies of English fiction, a book in spite of various crudenesses so good that even after a century and a half it is possible to consider it unhistorically; and yet it has never quite become a standard novel. Several reasons for this must be its intermittent unavailability, its reputation for eroticism, its not being reinforced by excellence in Lewis's other imaginative work, so that it has had to stand alone. But the chief reason must be that it has long suffered from a prejudice against the 'Gothic' novel in general, which I am anxious not to combat except as it affects our experience of The Monk. Deservedly forgotten --all but two or three exemplars--save by enthusiasts and specialists, this grotesque school helped usher in the English Romantic movement and debauched taste without ever really participating in the glories of the movement unless in the book before us. Here we might take refuge in the notion that The Monk is only incidentally a Gothic novel, and owes its excellence to other qualities; that it is good in spite of being to some extent a Gothic novel. But I don't think this is true. The Monk seems to me exactly a Gothic novel, in a sense to be elucidated. What I propose is to consider the book critically, without making any allowances whatever for it. It has found no considerable modern champion, as even Vathek found Mallarmé; a frailer work, but oriental not Gothic. But though nothing could recommend itself less obviously to current critical taste than Lewis's masterpiece, it is clear that . . .

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