The Monk

The Institution of Family in Matthew Lewis' The Monk

Matthew Lewis' The Monk makes extensive use of the institution of family in order to underscore the implied author's ambivalent position towards the French Revolution and its aftermath. The novel recounts the tale of two families: Antonia's family, which consists of her mother, Elvira, her step-uncle Raymond, her aunt Leonella, and her brother, Ambrosio (although their kinship remains unbeknownst to her until her death), and Agnes' family, which includes her mother Inesilla, her father Gaston, her brother Lorenzo, her Aunt Rodolpha, her uncle, the baron Lindenberg, her ancestor Beatrice, and her deceased child. The novel also deals to a lesser extent with Marguerite's family, which consists of her father, her first husband, her second husband Baptiste, and her two children, among whom Theodore becomes an important character. Through these three families the implied author explores the equivocal role of the family, as either a protective force that saves its members from annihilation, or an oppressive institution that is excessive in and of itself, and also breeds excess in others.

The two matriarchs, Elvira and Inesilla, embody the destructive aspect of the family, when it becomes an institution that...

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