Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Gothic Goodness

My sister is back in Los Angeles and Chaucer has taken his place on my shelf next to my Nancy Pearl and Shakespeare action figures and my Wild Things. But I am sure another adventure will call him forth again someday. Needless to say I didn't do much reading while my sister was here and was starting to feel a bit jittery. Last night I whetted my bookish appetite by listening to book six of Harry Potter on audio, reading Proust and beginning The Monk by Matthew Lewis, the first book in my RIP Challenge list (see sidebar). I did not do this all at once, however. Typically I read at least two different books each evening. I began with The Monk just in case it turns out to be scary I don't want it to be the last thing I read at night. I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. My edition has a well written introduction by Stephen King. He discusses The Monk in the context of the novel in general and the gothic novel specifically. He traces a timeline from Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto, which I now want to read someday, to Ann Radcliffe, in particular The Mysteries of Udolpho, which I also want to read someday, to The Monk, loved by Byron and de Sade and hated by Coleridge, and on up through Tales from the Crypt. When The Monk first came out in 1796, the book was considered obscene. Of course it was a bestseller. Matthew Lewis was made to "clean up" each successive edition, however, in order to avoid legal action. Happily, such things are no longer an issue with the book and my copy is from the original unexpurgated edition. And judging from King's intro I have lots of depravity to look forward to. But for the moment, the book is hilarious as the seeds of plots and intrigues are planted. There is the chaste and pure fifteen year-old Antonia and her silly aunt who reminds me of the nurse in Romeo and Juliet. The aunt is completely clueless and falls for the good looks and manners of two young Cavaliers. They are all sitting in church together waiting for a sermon from the Abbot. The aunt, swearing up a storm, very obligingly tells the two men Antonia's story. While Lorenzo flirts with Antonia, his friend Don Christoval distracts the aunt. By the end of it all the aunt thinks Don Christoval has proposed to her and insists that she could not possibly accept his first offer but she will be more considerate of his next offer which she expects shortly. After the aunt and Antonia depart, Don Christoval chides Lorenzo:

What can repay me for having kissed the leathern paw of that confounded old Witch? Diavolo! She has left such a scent upon my lips, that I shall smell of garlick for this month to come! As I pass along the Prado, I shall be taken for a walking Omelet, or some large Onion running to seed!
Lorenzo plans on marrying Antonia, but her chaste heart has been set aflutter by the handsome Abbot Ambrosio. Ambrosio was an orphan left on the doorstep of the Capuchin Abbey. He's been raised by monks and until he became Abbot and had to deliver a once a week sermon, he never left the Abbey. He is pure and good and ripe for a fall. And you know Antonia is going down too. Meanwhile there is also a little intrigue going on between Lorenzo's sister who is a nun and the Marquis Raymond de las Cisternas. The Marquis, it seems also is somehow connected to Antonia, or I might just be getting confused with all the set up. Needless to say, I am enjoying The Monk very much. Things are funny now, but I know they will turn. Part of me is eagerly looking forward to it. Part of me is dreading it. The tension is delightful.