The Monk

The Monk Summary and Analysis of Volume II, Chapter 3 & Volume II, Chapter 4


Volume II, Chapter 3

After his passion is spent, Ambrosio looks upon Matilda in his arms and feels only disgust and horror. He accuses her of having seduced him in the most wicked of ways, and forcing him to break the vows he made to God. Matilda shoots back that she has undertaken the same risk and committed the same wrongdoing, but this is not a very serious offense because celibacy is unnatural anyway. She urges him to savor these pleasures of love, and twines her arms around him. Overcome with desire, Ambrosio has sex with her again.

At dawn, Ambrosio no longer feels shame, only a burning sexual desire. Matilda's life is still threatened by poison and he worries about her, but only because her death would rob him of his new sexual partner. She declares that she knows a way to preserve her life and get rid of the poison, and asks Ambrosio for the key to the burying-ground that the monastery shares with the convent of St. Clare. Puzzled, Ambrosio agrees to give her this key. At that moment, a monk knocks on the door to check on Rosario's health, and Matilda pretends to be asleep.

Ambrosio resumes his prayers and religious duties, but his mind is really on the pleasures he shared with Matilda. He shifts between delighting in these forbidden pleasures and experiencing terrible regret and fear. He knows that if he is discovered, he will be publicly shamed or worse. At last, he convinces himself that he is indeed virtuous in everything except chastity, and that his sexual indiscretions will surely be easily forgiven.

The next night, Ambrosio meets Matilda at the gate of the burying-ground with the key she had requested. Carrying a small basket, Matilda forces him to promise that he will not attempt to see what she does, and then the two head into the crypts of St. Clare's. With a shock, they realize that there are other people already in the crypt. Two women's voices are conversing - it is the Prioress of St. Clare's and another nun named Mother Camilla. Camilla is urging the Prioress to show mercy toward Agnes, but the Prioress declares that the shame she has brought upon the convent -- not to mention her outrageous conduct in from of the blessed Father Ambrosio -- merits the strongest possible punishments. Despite Mother Camilla's pleas for mercy, the Prioress refuses to relent.

At last, the two women leave, allowing Ambrosio and Matilda to continue on their dark journey. Ambrosio explains to Matilda his encounter with Agnes, and the way he had abandoned her to the mercy of the Prioress. He has much more sympathy now for sexual indiscretions, and he resolves to plead Agnes' case before the Prioress the next day. Harshly, Matilda tells him to drop this idea and leave the nun to her fate; such a change in the Abbot's behavior might bring suspicion down upon him, and his own transgressions might be discovered. Ambrosio is disgusted with Matilda's lack of sympathy (which he believes is unbecoming in a woman), but he acknowledges that she is right. Though she has earned his respect with her sharp intellectual powers and her ruthlessness, Ambrosio has lost the sexual desire he once felt for her.

Matilda orders Ambrosio to wait on the stairs while she descends further into the crypt. While he waits for well over an hour for her to return, he feels a terrible thundering quake and sees a bright light dart through the darkness. This strange phenomenon happens twice. He also hears strains of strange but beautiful music.

At last, Matilda appears. She is restored to full health, and looks triumphant. The two return to the monastery just as dawn is breaking. She exults in her victory, but when Ambrosio asks her what she has done to win it, she refuses to tell him and reminds him that he has promised her never to ask what she has done. She embraces him, and the two sleep together once more.

The monks rejoice in the recovery of Rosario, and continue to respect Ambrosio. The two continue their nightly meetings, but Ambrosio quickly grows tired of Matilda and lusts after other women (though he continues to have sex with her). This only causes Matilda to yearn for him even more, and to once again turn sweet to beg for his attention. Ambrosio has a complex nature, which he himself only partially understands. He is certainly courageous and intelligent, but these qualities have been perverted by his monastic life, which has encouraged the greedy, timid, and superstitious qualities of his personality. Monastic life has thus far protected him from one side of his personality (his insatiable desire for women), but now Matilda has awoken that part. Ambrosio serves as confessor to numerous women in Madrid, and they fuel his fantasies.

But it is only when he beholds Agnes, praying in church for the health of her mother, that he is truly lost to desire. Agnes explains her pitiful situation to him, and begs him to come to her home to act as confessor to her mother. Filled with lust for her beauty and innocence, he agrees to do this.

Back in his cell, he marvels at Antonia's naïveté and modesty, and compares her unfavorably with the more shameless Matilda. He admits great envy for the one who will become her husband. This plunges him into greater distress, because he knows that he cannot marry her, and he swears that he would never make her endure the regret that comes with seduction. In a rage, he rips down the painting of the Madonna modeled on Matilda, and calls her a prostitute.

While the city is at siesta, Ambrosio pulls his cowl over his head and leaves the monastery for the home of Elvira. In doing this, he is breaking the vow he made to never leave the confines of the monastery, but he will risk everything for another glimpse of Antonia. He gets lucky - Leonella, who would have recognized him instantly and informed all Madrid that he had broken this vow - was called away to receive an inheritance from a distant cousin. Though Leonella mourns her separation from the inconstant Don Christoval and worries about the health of her sister, she departs on this mission. On her trip, she quickly forgets Christoval when she meets a young apothecary's apprentice, who persuades her to use her new funds to establish a shop for him.

Antonia welcomes Ambrosio in their home with warmth and joy. Ambrosio proves to be an excellent confessor to Elvira, soothing her fears and giving her hope of eternal life. In the course of their conversations, Elvira mentions her fears for Antonia: the girl is poor and friendless, and has no guardian except for her ailing mother. Elvira knows she does not have long to live, and she worries about how Antonia will make her way in the world. Ambrosio promises Elvira that if the worst comes to pass, he will find Antonia a safe place in a convent of in the home of one of his penitents. Elvira is relieved and grateful. Ambrosio promises that he will visit every day, but asks Elvira to keep it a secret; Elvira agrees.

The monk meets Antonia in an antechamber. He praises her mother's fortitude and moral strength, much to Antonia's joy. Wholeheartedly, Antonia confides in Ambrosio all of her thoughts, worries, and cares, totally unaware of the lust Ambrosio feels for her. After he departs, the mother and daughter discuss their unusual confessor.

Elvira remarks that his voice seems so familiar, but she is not sure where she could have heard it before - her poor health prevents her from attending Ambrosio's public sermons. Antonia admits that she had the same sense of familiarity when she heard it the first time, but she has no idea why. Ambrosio, after all, was brought to the monastery as a baby too young to speak - there is no way they could have heard his voice before. Antonia returns to her embroidery, thinking of Ambrosio but more often of Don Lorenzo. She then goes to sleep after saying her prayers to her patron saint, Rosolia.

Volume II, Chapter 4

Ambrosio returns to his cell full of delight at his meeting with Antonia. Ambrosio still admires her modesty, but he is determined to shatter it. He uses his daily visits to her mother to attempt to corrupt her excellent morals and make her easier prey for his lusts. Antonia, however, topples all of his intricate but morally bankrupt arguments with a few words. Ambrosio knows how evil it would be to rape this young girl, but he is so overcome with desire that he no longer cares.

As his desire for Antonia grows, his interest in Matilda wanes. He deliberately avoids her, yet he is also consumed with fear that she will reveal his secret transgressions. However, she has reverted to her mild and sweet nature to try to win him back, though this proves fruitless.

Slowly, Elvira recovers from her illness. Ambrosio realizes that he may be losing his chance to molest Antonia, and so he ends Elvira's confession early one day in order to sit with Antonia in a private room. He notices that Antonia possesses a copy of the bible with all inappropriate portions edited out; this is a testament to her total innocence. Antonia chats at length about her love for her mother, and Ambrosio asks if a heart that cherishes a parent so much might not also adore a lover. Ambrosio interrogates her about her desires, asking if she has truly never seen a man she longed for as a husband. Antonia is totally perplexed by this line of questioning; she is so innocent that she has no comprehension of such desires. He continues to press her, asking if she has ever seen a stranger who seemed oddly familiar to her. She replies that she has - Ambrosio himself always seemed familiar! He prompts her to explain further, and she says that second to her mother, no one is dearer to her than him.

Ambrosio, is his wicked state, takes this as evidence that the innocent Antonia shares his lusts. He seizes her, groping and kissing her despite her protests. Antonia is terrified, weeping and struggling.

Suddenly the door flies open - it is Elvira. Ambrosio jumps away from Antonia, and Antonia rushes into her mother's arms. Elvira begins to put the pieces together. She is a worldly woman and not impressed by the monk's reputation; Antonia had repeated some of the odd things he has said, and it is peculiar that the monk leaves his monastery only to visit their home. She also notices her daughter's agitation and the disorder of the front of her dress. Elvira realizes what the monk wants, but she knows that she - a friendless woman alone - will not be believed if she publicly accuses him. With a thin veneer of courtesy, she thanks him for his visit and shows him out of the house, but she says that her domestic business will make her unable to receive his visits any longer.

Elvira feels betrayed by the monk, and worried about the wellbeing of Antonia. She orders her daughter not to see Ambrosio anymore, and if she does, to never meet with him alone.

Ambrosio is consumed with frustration and lust. He came so close to possessing the object of his affections, and curses Elvira for thwarting him. A gentle knock on the door of his cell heralds the arrival of Matilda. He receives her coldly, but she meekly explains that she accepts the loss of his love for her and that she hopes for the next best thing - his friendship. Additionally, she says that she can offer assistance in Ambrosio's pursuit of his mistress. Awed, Ambrosio asks her what she means.

Matilda reveals that she knows about his lust for Antonia Dalfa, and about the numerous obstacles to the fulfillment of his desire. She knows all about the situation, and she also knows how Ambrosio can get what he wants. To an awed and slightly fearful Ambrosio, Matilda explains that her guardian and tutor was a man of great knowledge - including occult knowledge. He knew how to read the future and control spirits, and he has passed this knowledge on to Matilda. She used this knowledge to save herself from poison during her ritual in the crypt of St. Clare's - she summoned a fallen angel who saved her life. Ambrosio is horrified, and asks Matilda why she has bartered her immortal soul for a bit of transient earthly happiness. He is not willing to abandon all the joys of heaven for the opportunity to possess Antonia. Matilda explains that it is she, not he, who will invoke the spirits - he runs no risk. Moreover, these dark arts make her the master of the demons, not their slave. Ambrosio's mind is too filled with the false propaganda of the church to see the truth.

The two argue back and forth about this. Ambrosio says that he will not ally himself with God's enemy, and Matilda replies that Ambrosio isn't exactly God's friend at the moment; demons will be his best allies in his present aim of the rape of a virtuous young woman. Ambrosio admits that he has done wrong, but he is not yet ready to call upon Devils to assist him in his lusts; he will find a way to get what he wants from Antonia by human means.

"Then yours she will never be!" Matilda shoots back. She reveals that Antonia's heart belongs to another, who will be betrothed to her in only a few days if Ambrosio continues to do nothing. Matilda brings out a magic mirror; within it is the figure of Antonia preparing for a bath. A tame linnet bird nestles between her breasts, nibbling them, and she playfully shakes it off. Ambrosio is overcome with lust at the sight of this image, and yields to Matilda's diabolical plan.

Matilda leads Ambrosio into the catacombs of St. Clare's. He is tormented by worries and half-regrets, but continues into the darkness. He thinks he hears a voice groaning and crying out, but then Matilda appears glad in a long dark robe with mysterious symbols embroidered upon it. She leads him further on into the tunnels, and draws a circle in the floor. She speaks a few words and flames erupt from this circle, filing the cavern. She conducts a ritual involving the destruction of religious artifacts and the spilling of her own blood, and a beautiful youth with crimson wings appears in the middle of the circle.

Matilda converses with him in an unknown language; the youth seems to attempt to refuse her request, but Matilda berates him with such fury that eventually he gives in and hands her a branch of myrtle, then disappears. Matilda explains that the demons will aid Ambrosio in possessing Antonia, but this is the last time that Matilda will be allowed to use her magic arts on his behalf. If he needs their help again, he will have to invoke them himself. She explains that the branch of myrtle will aid him in this task: it will unlock every door, and if he places it on Antonia's pillow, she will fall into a deep sleep and be unable to resist Ambrosio's assault.

The two leave the sepulcher. Ambrosio's fear gives way to delight, as he thinks about molesting the sleeping Antonia.


The Monk contains a number of intriguing observations of human nature, and the growing indifference of Ambrosio towards Matilda is one of them. Matilda may be one of his closest confidantes, but she is also the means by which he has broken his vows. Despite the desire he once felt for her (and often still does feel), he grows to despise her imperious nature and her morally bankrupt decisions.

Ambrosio's compassion when he hears of Agnes' fate indicates that he still has some morality. However, Matilda orders him harshly to abandon the girl to her fate, lest he draw suspicion to his own crimes. This may be good advice, but it is cynical and cruel. The fact that Ambrosio takes it shows how far he has fallen under the sway of this woman.

Antonia stirs Ambrosio’s newly roused sexual desire even further. Her innocence intrigues him, and he breaks his vow to never leave the monastery in order to visit her family. He begins to desire her more and more; however, he has no honorable intentions of marrying her or at least winning her love (marriage would tarnish his reputation as an upstanding monk). Instead, he begins to plot ways to enjoy her sexually regardless of her own wishes. He seizes upon every action or word as proof of her interest in him, but ultimately he will continue to pursue her regardless of her interest.

Ambrosio molesting Antonia is a particularly disturbing scene. She has just finished explaining how much she trusts him and what a good friend he has been to her; in his demented mind, this becomes proof that she also wishes to sleep with him, despite the fact that sexual desire is totally foreign to Antonia. This example of a mature man exploiting the trust of a young girl in order to fulfill his sexual desires is vividly described and deeply disturbing.

Elvira, who has learned a great deal about the world after her difficult marriage, is the first to suspect that Ambrosio may not be as pure as he purports to be. However, she knows that her word as an impoverished foreign woman will be nothing next to that of Ambrosio, a respected monk. She resorts to the only defense she has - exiling Ambrosio from the house in a gentle but firm way. Peculiarly, Ambrosio reacts strongly to this mild defense, loudly lamenting his loss of opportunity to assault Antonia. It is another woman - Matilda - who offers him the opportunity to rape Antonia, actually drawing on demonic forces to help him accomplish this task.