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Monk Lewis

Monk Lewis: A Critical Biography

Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 408
  • Book Info
    Monk Lewis
    Book Description:

    A modern critical biography of Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775?1818), until now neglected as a cultural figure. This is the first study to consider all of Lewis?s works and their connections to his personal and public life.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7733-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Chronology
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Part One: Personal Themes

    • One The Hard Fist of Hymen
      (pp. 3-13)

      Matthew Lewis (1750–1812) and Frances Maria Sewell (d. 1822) were married on 22 February 1773, in the parish church of St Martin in the Fields. Their families both owned estates in Jamaica and had neighbouring estates in England (Peck 3); considered as a sort of merger, as marriages often were in their class at this time (Gillis 135, 141), or as the sort of dynastic marriage often promoted by the villains of Gothic novels (Ellis 46), it was a suitable match. Considered as the love-match sought by Gothic heroines (Ellis 50), it seems to have been less suitable. The...

    • Two The Fruits of a Single Error
      (pp. 14-32)

      Lewis’s first surviving letter to his mother dates from 1791, ten years after the separation. It begins on a note of guilt, as if the son had been accused of abandoning his mother, rather than the reverse: ‘You gave me pain by saying that every body had forgot you.’ The guilt is qualified by a note of resentment – ‘I thought my constant attention would have exempted me at least from the accusation’ – but also intensified by the contrast between their positions:

      Without money, without friends, sick, in a foreign country [France]. Oh my Mother! The remembrance of your...

    • Three The West Indian
      (pp. 33-58)

      Baron-Wilson describes Matthew Lewis senior as ‘firm in his friendships, ... yet stern in his purposes, and implacable in his resentments’ (1:45). She attributes his implacability to his sense of himself as a self-made man: ‘his first rise in the world was entirely the result of his own exertions; and this circumstance, no doubt, much contributed to steel, as it were, his character, and to add a degree of sternness to its natural inflexibility’ (2:84). In fact, as Peck points out (1–2), he was appointed chief clerk of the War Office in 1772 and deputy-secretary at war in 1775...

    • Four The Magnet
      (pp. 59-92)

      Lewis’s sexuality has often been alluded to but never properly discussed. Some understanding of it, however, is helpful towards an understanding of the rich sexual pathology ofThe Monk– not, I believe, because Lewis’s own sexuality was unusually pathological (despite George E. Haggerty’s suggestion that it was ‘deeply rooted in aberrant desire and guilt-ridden fear’ [‘Literature and Homosexuality’ 349]), but because it gave him a vivid sense of the pathology of his society.¹

      Lewis never married, and he left no records of any sexual relationship.² Baron-Wilson believed that the reason was his lifelong love for Lady Charlotte Campbell (1775–...

  6. Part Two: Political Variations

    • Five Horribly Bit by the Rage of Writing: 1775–1795
      (pp. 95-128)

      Lewis first left home to attend the Marylebone Seminary run by the Rev. Dr John Fountaine, a family friend. He must have been very young; he was only seven when he went on to Westminster. He was desolate, as new boys at boarding schools often are; when he said his prayers on his first night in the dormitory, he added a codicil: ‘God bless menow, in a strange place, among strange boys, away from mamma, with nobody to love me!’ He cried himself to sleep (Baron-Wilson 1:40–1).

      George Colman the Younger (1762–1836), the playwright, who passed through...

    • Six An Inundation of Ghosts: 1796–1812
      (pp. 129-185)

      The Monkwas published anonymously on 12 March 1796, at the price of ten shillings and sixpence (Parreaux 53).¹ The early reviews were mostly favourable. TheMonthly Mirrorfor June 1796 described the novel as ‘masterly and impressive.’ In theAnalytical Reviewfor October 1796, Mary Wollstonecraft was especially impressed by Matilda’s seduction of Ambrosio: ‘the whole temptation is so artfully contrived, that a man, it should seem, were he made as other men are, would deserve to be d—ned who could resist even devilish spells, conducted with such address, and assuming such a heavenly form’ (403). She had...

    • Seven Converse with the Departed: 1812–1817
      (pp. 186-197)

      Coming into his inheritance seems to have affected Lewis’s manners. Now that he was a great landowner, he seems to have expected his aristocratic friends to regard him as an equal, not as a tame poet. As Lord Holland put it: ‘contrary to the usual course of things, the peculiarities and egotism which had been in some degree pardoned to his genius and youth,when poorbecame quite intolerable, and were, in fact, not tolerated in society when he succeeded to a large property in Jamaica’ (Further Memoirs379–80). Complaints about his behaviour certainly became more frequent. In June...

    • Eight The Isle of Devils: 1815–1818
      (pp. 198-210)

      Lewis made two trips to Jamaica, in 1815–16 and in 1817–18; on both occasions, he sailed on theSir Godfrey Websterunder a Captain Boyes. In the middle of his first voyage out, in December 1815, the ship was becalmed. Captain Boyes should have been used to such delays, but he was, Lewis noted, ‘quite out of patience.’ Lewis himself was philosophical: ‘whether we have sailed slowly or rapidly, when a day is once over, I am just as much nearer advanced towards “that bourne,” to reach which, peaceably and harmlessly, is the only business of life, and...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 211-234)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-296)
  9. Index
    (pp. 297-311)