‘This book made me blush,’ someone said in my seminar at nine o’clock on a Monday morning, ‘and I haven’t felt anything in two years.’
This week, as part of a module called ‘Dark Romanticism’, we read a book called The Monk. Hailed as one of the most important Gothic novels of the Georgian period, The Monk was as famous as it was scandalous. It’s a story of a virtuous young monk called Ambrosio. He’s handsome, he’s holy – he’s an arsehole. Or at least, he soon will be. Succumbing to the temptations of a beautiful woman called Matilda, Ambrosio finds himself lust-obsessed and falling into a world of increasingly outrageous sins.
They say that the average murderer commits seven crimes before the final killing act. Well, Ambrosio commits all the crimes, and, quite frankly, he does a lot more than just mere murder. It’s safe to say that if your life choices are making Dr Faustus’ look mild, it’s time to take a long hard look in the magic mirror and realise it’s time to repent.
Lewis’ The Monk is the perfect Halloween read if you’re looking for scandal this October. It’s got corrupt nuns, bleeding nuns, pregnant nuns – and that’s just the nuns. There’s also a ghost, shame, and lots of regret. Is this not what All Hallows’ Eve is all about?
In an age where every day is another exercise in English repression, where outrage culture opens with a morning yawn, why not remind yourself what good old-fashioned sensational fear tastes like and open The Monk on the thirty-first?
“Vice is ever most dangerous,” Lewis will warn you, as you leaf through the book like a scandalised Jane Austen character, “when lurking behind the Mask of Virtue.”