The Monk. By Matthew Gregory Lewis. London: J. Bell, 1796. First edition. First issue. The Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. Written when the future member of Parliament was only twenty, this is perhaps the most notorious book of the late eighteenth-and early nineteenth-century. Byron, no stranger to controversy himself, wrote in his journal: "'I looked yesterday at the worst parts of The Monk. These descriptions ought to have been written by Tiberius at Caprea-they are forced-the philtered ideas of a jaded voluptuary" (GQ 214). In the tale, Ambrosio, a devout abbot of mysterious parentage, is seduced by a young woman, Matilda, who is in the service of the devil. His passions inflamed, he contrives, with Matilda's help, to rape an innocent young girl, Antonia. To achieve his end, he must murder her mother, Elvira. He and Matilda are found out and cast into prison. Ambrosio sells his soul so that he, like Matilda, can escape. The devil then reveals to him that his parentage is a mystery no more: Elvira was his mother and Antonia his sister. Ambrosio is then thrown into the abyss. Various subplots-all romantic in nature, but ending happily-interlace the narrative. So scandalous was the novel that one hundred years after it was published, many people still regarded it as a wicked book and classified it as erotica. The novel reflects common eighteenth century Gothic features of mysterious parentage, incest, and corrupt clergy.

Ambrosio; or, The Monk: a romance. "With considerable additions and alterations." By Matthew Gregory Lewis. Fourth edition. This edition's changes are largely limited to omitting the paragraph that can be interpreted as reflecting badly upon the Bible, as well as absenting several erotic scenes.

The Monk. A romance. London: privately printed, 18--? This beautifully printed and bound edition of Lewis's notorious novel boasts a decoy feature: one could presumably, if one chose, have the book bound with "British Butterflies" on the spine, and any unsuspecting snoop would be fooled into thinking that the owner of the library would never possess such a book. This decoy feature is at odds with the fiery introduction defending both Lewis and his work. The owner of this particular copy boldly chose to have it bound with The Monk on the spine.

The Castle of Otranto. By Horace Walpole. London: Thomas Lownds, 1765. This novel is credited with beginning the Gothic genre. The first edition, shown here, styles itself a "story translated by William Marshal, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the church of St. Nicholas at Otranto." As with the German vogue of the Northanger canon, we see the English notion that the Gothic is something coming from outside of England. This novel, set in medieval Italy and with a chapel and Catholic priest at its heart, depicts deranged cruelty visited upon his children by a dictatorial ruler and father.

The Castle of Otranto.By Horace Walpole. Translated by Francis Ledoux. Engravings by Salvador Dali. Le Club Francais du Livre, 1964. Salvador Dali's illustrations in this limited edition exemplify the surrealistic quality of much of the Gothic.
Melmoth the Wanderer: a Tale. By Charles Robert Maturin. Edinburgh: A. Constable and Company, 1820. In this Faustian tale, the antihero possesses the power to inflict misery with impunity as he travels the world searching for a person willing to trade his own destiny for the impending damnation of Melmoth. His outcast status is a direct result of his willingness to sell his soul to possess knowledge that is forbidden. Goethe, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, Charles Baudelaire, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and Honore Balzac are just some of the authors influenced by Maturin's tale.
The broken Oscar Wilde, released from a year of hard labor at Reading Jail, fled to the Continent, using the pen name "Sebastian Melmoth" to denote the misery of his exile and the impossibility of inner peace. Maturin was, incidentally, curate of St. Peter's, Dublin, from which pulpit he preached a series of anti-Catholic pieces called Six Sermons on the Errors of the Roman Catholic Church.


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