"He is reported to be so strict an observer of Chastity, that he knows not in what consists the difference of man and woman."
Lorenzo describes the moral purity of Ambrosio to an awestruck Antonia. He claims that this monk is so good and pure that he is not even aware of the sexual and anatomical differences between men and women. Antonia realizes that she too is unaware of any difference, which highlights her purity and increases her intense but innocent love for Ambrosio.
Ambrosio is famous as a man who has not only overcome temptation, but has the moral fortitude to remain completely aware of it. However, this has made his will brittle and easily broken, as the reader shall see later.
Ambrosio was yet to learn, that to a heart unacquainted with her, vice is ever more dangerous when lurking behind the mask of virtue.
This passage comes after Ambrosio's discovery that Matilda was the model for the portrait of the Virgin Mary that transfixes him so; she is the embodiment of feminine perfection that he has gazed at so longingly.
After this revelation, Ambrosio decides that it is surely nobler to reject temptation when presented with it every day than to completely insulate oneself from temptation; therefore, he decides that Matilda should stay in the monastery.
But this passage (along with Matilda's relentless pursuit of Ambrosio, despite his vows of chastity) suggests that Matilda may not be as pure of heart as she initially appears to Ambrosio. Her initial semblance of care for Ambrosio may at best conceal a callous heart, and at worst, a truly wicked intent.
"You must lay yourself out to please; you must labour to gain the approbation of those to whom you are presented: they who would have courted the friendship of the Condé de las Cisternas will have no interest in finding out the merits, or bearing patiently with the faults, of Alphonso d'Alvarada. Consequently, when you find yourself really liked, you may safely ascribe it to your good qualities, not your rank, and the distinction shown you will be infinitely more flattering."
This is the advice given to Raymond by his friend and mentor, the Duke of Villa Hermosa, before he sets out on his travels across Europe. The Duke convinces Raymond to conceal his noble birth and to present himself as a common gentleman, because this will allow him to forge truer friendships with people.
One of the themes of The Monk is the conflict between appearance and substance. By choosing to conceal his noble birth, Raymond puts aside an aspect of himself that might delude people into treating him in a way he does not deserve. By pretending to be a common man, Raymond will be treated according to his character rather than his rank; if people want to befriend him, he can be sure that it is because of his personal qualities rather than desire to manipulate the influence of a future Marquis. Raymond is unusual in the novel for going to such lengths to forgo a potentially favorable public image; for example, compare him to Ambrosio, who depends on a flattering public appearance to cover up terrible transgressions.
Deceived by my nearest relations, compelled to embrace a profession the duties of which I am ill-calculated to perform, conscious of the sanctity of those duties, and seduced into violating them by one whom I least suspected of perfidy, I am now obliged by circumstances to choose between death and perjury. Woman's timidity and maternal affection, permit me not to balance the choice. I feel al the guild into which I plunge myself, when i yield to the plan which you have proposed to me.
This passage comes from the letter that Agnes writes to Raymond after she discovers her pregnancy. She begs Raymond to help her, even as she chastises herself for breaking her vows.
This quote describes the difficult position of Agnes, who is bound to a profession she hates. It was never Agnes' choice to become a nun: her parents made this decision for her. Though the narrative never denies that Agnes violated her vows, this quote and others create a great deal of sympathy for her transgressions.
She abandoned herself freely to the impulse of her passions, and seized the first opportunity to procure their gratification. [...] She contrived to elope from the convent, and fled to Germany with the Baron Lindenberg. She lived at his castle several months as his avowed concubine: all bavaria was scandalized by her impudent and abandoned conduct. Her feasts view in luxury with Cleopatra's, and Lindenberg became the theater of the most unbridled debauchery. Not satisfied with displaying the incontinence of a prostitute, she professed herself an atheist; she took every opportunity to scoff at her monastic vows, and loaded with ridicule the most sacred ceremonies of religion.
The mysterious stranger is explaining the origin of the Bleeding Nun, whose name in life was Beatrice de las Cisternas. Her parents forced her (like Agnes) into a convent, despite her being terribly unsuited for such a life. Like Agnes, she eventually broke her vows of chastity.
However, Beatrice went far beyond Agnes' single transgression. She rejoices in her sins, even plotting murder in order to fulfill her desires for men. This quote is an attempt on the part of the author to develop a character that deserves the horrible fate endured by the Bleeding Nun.
This passage connects sexual liberalism with lack of belief in God, setting up a dichotomy between being religiously observant and sexually active. This dichotomy plagues numerous characters throughout the narrative.
An Author, whether good or bad, or between both, is an animal whom everybody is privileged to attack; for though all are not able to write books, all conceive themselves able to judge them. A bad composition carries with it its own punishment, contempt or ridicule. A good one excited envy, and entails upon its author a thousand mortifications.
After talking all night with his friend Lorenzo, Raymond comes back to his chambers to find Theodore composing poetry, and offers him this cynical advice.
This quotation succinctly captures the difficult circumstances of writers and other artists - critics assail them when they do poorly, but they are targets of envy when they do well. This attitude may also be informed by author Matthew Lewis' own experiences; he was dependent on writing for his livelihood, and may have keenly felt the sting of criticism.
Unnatural were your vows of celibacy; man was not created for such a state; and were love a crime, God never would have made it so sweet, so irresistible! Banish those clouds from your brow, my Ambrosio! Indulge in those pleasures freely, without which life is a worthless gift: cease to reproach me with having taught you what is bliss, and feel equal transports with the woman who adores you!
Matilda gives this speech in Ambrosio not long after they break their vows of celibacy together. Ambrosio is overcome with shame at his weakness and reproaches Matilda for seducing him; she replies with an affirmation of her love for him and a condemnation of celibacy generally.
This quote illustrates one of the primary theses of the novel - that celibacy is an unnatural and dangerous state, which at best breeds hypocrisy and at worst entices one to great acts of cruelty. Ambrosio may have broken his vows to heaven and set himself on an evil path, but ultimately he was driven to this unhappy state by his vows of celibacy.
This quote also reveals some of the qualities that make Matilda so dangerous. There is a great gap between what she says (her declarations of pure love for Ambrosio, her desire to see him happy) and her actions (staying close to him despite his protestations, seducing him).
While the monks were busied in rooting out his virtues and narrowing his sentiments, they allowed every vice which had fallen to his share to arrive at full perfection. He was suffered to be proud, vain, ambitious, and disdainful: he was jealous of his equals, and despised all merit but his own: he was implacable when offended, and cruel in his revenge. Still in spite of the pains taken to pervert them, his natural good qualities would occasionally break through the gloom cast over them so carefully: at such times the contest for superiority between his real and acquired character was striking and unaccountable to those unacquainted with his original disposition.
At this point in the novel, Ambrosio no longer feels shame at breaking his vows of celibacy with Matilda, and he has begun to tire of her and desire other women. It is at this point that the author shines a light on Ambrosio's character: he is ultimately a good person - strong, intelligent, courageous, and just - despite his recent actions. Moreover, his negative tendencies are not his own fault, but rather that of his monastic mentors; this emphasizes the novel's anti-Catholic elements.
Ambrosio has a number of virtues as well as his share of vices. Unlike the complex anti-heroes who capture readers’ hearts through their commitment to the good despite their inclinations towards evil, Ambrosio eventually falls victim to evil despite his noble qualities.
He doubted not, that being beyond the reach of help, cut off from all the world and totally in his power, Antonia should comply with his desires. The affection which she had ever expressed for him, warranted this persuasion: but he resolved that should she prove obstinate, no consideration whatever should prevent him from enjoying her. Secure from a discovery, he shuddered not at the idea of employing force.
Having failed to assault Ambrosio while she was under the influence of the magical myrtle, Ambrosio plots to drug her, fake her death, and keep her prisoner in a crypt so that he has unlimited sexual access to her. He is not concerned with her consent in this situation: his lust for her overrides his compassion or even his sense of mortality. Antonia has previously said how much she loves his friendship, but as she is totally ignorant of sexuality, she has no idea how Ambrosio has interpreted these statements. This quotation sums up the disturbing consequences of the powerful monk's obsession with the defenseless young girl.
"Scarcely could I propose crimes so quick as you performed them. You are mine, and heaven itself cannot rescue you from my power. Hope not that your penitence will make void our contract. Here is your bond signed with blood; you have given up your claim to mercy, and nothing can restore to you the rights which you have so foolishly resigned."
Ambrosio signs his soul away to the devil in order to escape death at the hands of the Inquisition. He is stunned when the devil does not bring him to the promised safe refuge, but rather to a barren mountaintop. The devil explains that he has pursued Ambrosio for a long time, sending a demon disguised as Matilda to tempt him, and offer him methods to pursue his lusts. The devil marvels how quickly Ambrosio - held up as a paragon of virtue - has fallen, and how great are the sins that he has committed.
This passage does have a number of interesting implications: could Ambrosio have been forgiven for the many crimes (including lying, breaking vows of celibacy, rape, murder, and incest) that he has committed? Who would forgive him? The possibility of salvation and redemption from even the most egregious sins is often held up as a feature of Christianity, but religious/spiritual forgiveness does not imply that such immoral actions have no consequences.
The Monk Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Monk is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Ambrosio and Matilda are both in prison. Ambrosio continues to claim his innocence but, when faced with the instruments of torture, falsely confesses his sins. Ambrosia and Matilda are both to burn. Ambrosia signs a contract with Satan (this is...