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The Failure of GothicProblems of Disjunction in an Eighteenth-Century Literary Form$
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Elizabeth R. Napier

Print publication date: 1987

Print ISBN-13: 9780198128601

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198128601.001.0001

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Cross-purposes: The Monk

Cross-purposes: The Monk

(p.112) 5 Cross-purposes: The Monk
The Failure of Gothic

Elizabeth R. Napier

Oxford University Press

This chapter discusses The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis. It argues that if the moral message of Lewis’s book seems bound up with the virtue of compassion and the knowledge of man’s frailty—humanistic themes that would figure in Lewis’s later tragedies—and the resolution of the narrative seems to depend on a process of revelation and unmasking, such urges are offset by another pattern of images and an aesthetic procedure that carry equal (if more subversive) weight: those of veiling and distancing. Though openness appears to be the moral desideratum of Lewis’s book, a fascination with indirection, transference, and distancing marks The Monk, and dictates, ultimately, its aesthetic appeal; an interest in psychological and aesthetic deflection replaces the apparent call for openness and the demand for pity is fulfilled by the creation of erotic scenes that encourage a debased form of sympathy: a kind of prurient curiosity that depends upon withdrawal and distance.

Keywords:   moral message, Gothic fiction, Matthew Gregory Lewis, humanism, unmasking, openness

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