Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Response to William Brewer's "Transgendering in Matthew Lewis's The Monk"

After having read Brewer's rather insightful critical analysis about transgendering, gender role-reversal and confusion of specific gender roles I felt substantially better in knowing I wasn't the only one to hold specific opinions on Ambrosio or any of the characters. As an example, I had taken note of the passage in the book where Ambrosio was wishing for the return of Matilda's male alter-ego Rosario. In almost any other context this would have been perceived as a possible hinting toward homosexuality (or at least sexual confusion) on the part of Ambrosio. but I was much more impressed with Brewer's interpretation in which he argued
"Part of [Ambrosio's] insecurity can, in fact, be explained by his inability to fit his own definition of manliness. [...] Ambrosio's preference for a feminine male over a masculine woman can, of course, be seen as an indication of latent homosexuality, but it is also consistent with his obsessive need to be the dominant figure in his relationships, to command tather than be commanded" (198).
It makes a substantial argument, at least in my mind, to view Ambrosio as a man drunk on his own power rather than a latent homosexual, which is a theory never pursued to the same extent as his need for power in the rest of the novel. While his overbearing need to be powerful is shown in how he detains Antonia and resorts to physical violence to make her submit to his will in the catacombs (He also vies for a position of power with the aid of the fig branch given to him by Lucifer, which renders its victim unable to resist any sort of command from the branch's posessor).
In fact, it may be worth pursuing the idea of Ambrosio's need for power in other aspects of the novel and its potential allegories to the Church at the time of the novel's publication; it would be quite rewarding indeed to see if Ambrosio's lust for dominance is some sort of subliminal satire on the conduct of the Catholic Church during the time of the novel's writing (several references are made to the Inquisition and Lewis, a Protestant, may have enjoyed jabbing a few well-aimed barbs into the taboo of Catholocism, as he did in Chapter VII of the novel.).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Innocence and Immaturity in The Monk

I finally finished Matthew Lewis' The Monk, and am quite honestly impressed with the work on a whole. The graceful arc that Ambrosio's character seemed to follow was of particular interest to me. As I went through the novel I felt the same loathing and reprehension toward the character of the fallen abbot that Lewis was undoubtedly trying to influence us into feeling. However, though he became a rather penitent (and eventually damned) sinner, I still can't shake the feeling that perhaps Ambrosio isn't as truly morally corrupt as I originally thought--could it not be argued that Ambrosio was acting on a level even he was unable of controlling?

Obviously Ambrosio's lust toward Matilda, the Madona and Antonia were incredibly base and emotions that the rest of the Madrid society had learned to control in the presence of others; could the fact that Ambrosio had been raised in the abbey of the Capuchins be a major factor in his rather unbridled emotions later on? Having been raised in circumstances that, according to legend, ensured he had never even seen a woman, or had been taught to be "gender-blind," so to speak, is it not entirely possible that the only reason his actions were so brash could be attributed to his inability to supress the feelings of temptation and lust? It's easy enough to claim chastity, purity and temperance when one lives in a world devoid of temptation; the true test of one's virtue comes when they are faced with such provocation.

Since the monks of the abbey had never taught him how to deal with temptation except to avoid it at all costs, can it be argued that this inability to process this kind of risk left him completely defenseless against a real-world application of the temptations of Matilda? After all, behind closed doors Ambrosio indulges himself in great fantasies of the consummation of love with his image of the Madona; when he cannot truly comprehend what the female form consists of (while simultaneously being taught that the Madona was the peak of female form in body and spirit), such conflicting trains of though cannot coexist for long before one of them is compromised. Imagine then his conflicting baser instincts and their fight with his higher facilities as he discovers Matilda is the spitting image of the Madona! Anyone with such an idolatry toward beauty in the female form, no matter how chaste and pure they claim to be, could possibly avoid such temptation for long.