The Monk (Penguin Classics)
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The Monk

by Matthew Lewis

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Anti-feminist Characteristics

The Monk manipulates the female as the main source of spectacle. Females are reduced to spectacles in The Monk through two primary means. One is sensational environments and the second is the brutality of their treatments.[40]

Women are in sensational environments and, while they are trying to create better lives for themselves, they only end up with worse. This is portrayed in the subplot of Agnes. She is trying to create a better life for herself by escaping from the Castle of Lindenberg.[41] She even comes up with a unique plan that she explains to Raymond, "I shall quit my chamber ... drest in the same apparel as the Ghost is supposed to wear. Whoever meets me will be too much terrified to oppose my escape".[42] However, in anti-feminist fashion (of not letting the woman succeed in a plan to make her life better), a real ghost (the Bleeding Nun) appears to foil her plan. "By staging this episode, Lewis emphasizes how Agnes's noncompliance – her insistence on her own pleasure, and her defiant questioning of the destiny that others have mapped out for her – nevertheless fails to found the mythical new society".[43] Therefore by trying to escape her current prison, she only ends up in a different kind of prison, hence, not making a better life for herself.

An example of brutality of treatment is seen in Agnes as well. First Agnes, a pregnant woman, is imprisoned for committing adultery. Then her whereabouts are concealed from her relatives, and the Pope’s order to release her is disregarded. Finally, her newborn child and she are left to starve to death.[43] Another example is the Bleeding Nun who had her bones lie unburied near the Lindenburg Castle. "Know then, that my bones lie still unburied: They rot in the obscurity of Lindenberg Hole. None but this Youth has the right of consigning them to the Grave."[44] After being horribly murdered, she does not even receive the dignity of a burial. Thirdly, is the rape and murder of Antonia by her brother Ambrosio.[45] A final example is the Prioress being trampled and violated by an incensed mob. The rioters dragged the Prioress "through the Streets, spurning her, trampling her, and treating her with every species of cruelty which hate or vindictive fury could invent".[46] The Prioress became a "wretched woman"[47] in this scene. Most importantly, throughout these examples is the fact that each woman’s story is linked to their femininity. "Agnes is a mother who holds the decomposed body of her infant; the Bleeding Nun is the licentious wife of a Baron; Antonia is the innocent virgin; and, finally, the Prioress is the feminine head of the Convent of St. Clare."[40]

Furthermore, women are seen to cause the downfall of other women. "Antonia’s mother Elvira could hardly have chosen a worse companion for her daughter than her sister Leonella, for Leonella’s indiscretion and absurdity contribute directly to the misfortunes that later befall Antonia."[48] Also, by not allowing Lorenzo to court her daughter she leaves her open to Ambrosio's plans to seduce her. Agnes's aunt's jealousy for Raymonds affections make her lie to Agnes about Raymond's intentions, causing her to join the convent where she would later face imprisonment.

Finally, while The Monk ends with weddings, this does not mean happy endings for the women. The marriage of Raymond and Agnes leaves Agnes vowing to be a devoted wife. "The more culpable have been the errors of your Mistress, the more exemplary shall be the conduct of your wife".[49] Instead of finally reaching a happy environment and living situation in the end of the novel, this marriage still portrays anti-feminist qualities by leaving Agnes as completely devoted to her husband, without having a life of her own. The second marriage is of Lorenzo is to Virginia de Villa Franca, who is, "The Idol of her Parents, the admiration of Madrid, endowed by nature and education with every perfection of person and mind".[50] Once again a marriage is, "calculated to make him happy".[51] Instead of being married for the traditional value of love, both of these marriages are made only to create the most happiness for the men without taking the enjoyment of the women into consideration.

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