Every November, four wonderful bloggers (Kim and Leslie and Katie and Rebecca) team up to bring us the marvelous Nonfiction November. The theme of this week is book pairings, in which we pair our fiction reads with a nonfictional counterpart.
Earlier in the year, I had the inestimable privilege of participating in Alice (of Reading Rambo)’s readalong of Matthew Gregory Lewis’s book The Monk. It was…deeply stupid. HOWEVER. As I was scouring my reading spreadsheets for nonfiction books to highlight in this book pairing, I remembered that I read a book earlier this year in which every insane thing done by Evil Nuns and Evil Monks was completely non-annoying BECAUSE IT WAS TRUE.
I give you: The Nuns of Sant’Ambrogio.
I read a review of this book that said it was the story of a nineteenth-century convent in which many scandals occurred, and I admit, I came to it with a skeptical eye. I was like, I mean, a scandal in the 1800s is like, not even a blip on the radar of our modern, cynical times. But I was so, so wrong.
Here’s all you need to know about the book: A relatively well-connected nun emerged from the convent at Sant’Ambrogio insisting that the nuns there were engaged in idolatry and wicked sexual practices. Not only that (she said), but when this nun refused to cooperate with this stuff, the novice mistress tried repeatedly to murder her. And she was not exaggerating. If anything she was underplaying it. IT WAS ALL GLORIOUSLY TRUE.
Don’t read The Monk; it’s stupid. Read this instead.
(Nonfiction November Hosts: That’s…not really what a book pairing is?
So it’s the last week of Monkalong, and also the week in which I knew Antonia was going to get raped, because it’s not like we’re getting out of this book without that happening. I admit I dragged my feet on reading this section. I had to really force myself to do it, using the inducement of your wonderful comments and the other marvelous Monkalong posts.
(Oh, I forgot to tell you, I’m only using Crimson Peak gifs this week, because it’s the greatest movie of our time, yet could not have existed without this garbage fire of a book.)
(It probably could have. Someone else would have written an influential Gothic novel that would have fit into this slot.)
Anyway, this week THE MONK rapes Antonia, and the least said about that the better. Afterward he feels guilty and he thinks maybe he’ll let her live the rest of her life down there in the crypt, and then she sort of talks him into letting her leave, but regrettably, Matilda comes along all like
While they’re debating whether to kill Antonia or not, she sensibly takes off running. I can’t remember if she hears Lorenzo’s voice and goes running so he can save her, or if she takes off running first and hears Lorenzo’s voice second. Needless to say, I can’t be bothered going back to check. She runs headlong through the halls of the crypt area, screeching like a banshee (luckily she screams louder than Elvira) and does not stop even when THE MONK stabs her to shut her up.
So Antonia’s dead, Lorenzo’s inconsolable, and THE MONK and Matilda have to go to the Inquisition to be tried for their crimes. Lorenzo takes to his bed in grief (don’t worry, there’s a consolation prize named Victoria awaiting him, or maybe it’s Virginia, I honestly DGAF anymore), and guess who sits with him to console him through this difficult time because she can see that he’s in need of comfort.
If you guessed “Agnes” and then howled “WHAT IS THIS FUCKERY,” then you and I are in total agreement. As a reminder, when we left Agnes, she was in such a zombified, skeletal state that her own nearest kin (Lorenzo) was unable to recognize her. She had been poisoned, starved, and brutalized for weeks while pregnant, and then she had the baby, which died from lack of nourishment, rotted in her arms, and MAGGOTS CRAWLED ON AGNES’S HANDS WHILE SHE SLEPT.
But she sees that Lorenzo really needs comfort because this girl he barely knew just died. Sure. Yes. Fine.
Oh, and Lewis does explain why nobody recognized Agnes before. It’s because her hair was messed up. I AM NOT EVEN KIDDING. And Agnes marries her long-winded boyfriend (may you always be satisfied), and Lorenzo marries his consolation prize (ditto), and Flora gets to go back to Cuba (good for you, Flora!), and we never hear anything about Not-Now Christoval (sigh).
After all this, THERE IS STILL ANOTHER CHAPTER TO READ. The Inquisition tortures Matilda and Ambrosio into confessing, and Ambrosio’s so frightened of being ?further tortured? and burned at the stake that he agrees to sell his soul to Lucifer if Lucifer will set him free of this prison and keep him safe from the Inquisition. In a twist I have to feel Ambrosio should have seen coming if he has read anything about the devil before ever, Lucifer frees him from the prison but then immediately throws him off a cliff, thereby consigning Ambrosio’s soul to eternal hellfire and torment.
I hope you have enjoyed my torments as I’ve plowed through what may legitimately be the worst book in all of history. I cannot exactly remember why I hounded Alice into doing this readalong, but anyway it has been a pleasure to share the absurdity/suffering with all you lovely people (readalongers and non-readalongers alike!).
This book is so stupid. It’s good we’re reading it in chunks, because I’m pretty sure if you read it all in one go, its overwhelmingly stupidity would cause you to go blind. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said “Oh fuck off” out loud to this book. But let’s get in on this.
So in the first chapter of the third volume, it seems that Agnes is not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead. Alphonso (the world’s most boring storyteller) takes to his bed in his grief, while Lorenzo believes everything a nun tells him, even if she’s Obviously Evil ™. So it’s up to Theodore to do some reconnaissance work re: Agnes, by which he discovers through Non-Evil Nun Ursula that Agnes is dead, that the nunnery is a hotbed of wickedness, and that Non-Evil Nun Ursula is ready to blow the whole thing wide open.
Meanwhile, in an imperfectly-synched-up storyline across the way that seems to have nothing to do with this one at all, THE MONK sneaks into Antonia’s room and renders her instantly and painlessly unconscious with his Lucifer-supplied stick (not a euphemism). As he’s preparing to rape her (you’re the worst, Ambrosio), Elvira walks in on him.
Here’s the thing, Elvira. Antonia is unconscious, and your frail and sickly screams are as the squeaking of a domestic guinea pig, so your first move should probably be to secure your safety and the safety of your daughter and worry about the legal side later. When Elvira first walks in, the only thing THE MONK wants to do is get out, but then Elvira’s all like:
It’s actually pretty great, I’m not going to lie.
“I promise not only that Antonia shall be secure from me in future, but that the rest of my life shall prove ….”
Elvira interrupted him abruptly.
“Antonia secure from you? I will secure her!”
Damn right, Elvira! You know this dude can’t be trusted. But also — maybe save it for a time when you’re not all alone with him? Because the next thing that happens is that THE MONK kills Elvira, leaves her corpse on Antonia’s bedroom floor, and takes off.
Ugh, and then THE MONK has a whole plan where he’s going to give Antonia a drug that will make her seem dead, and they’ll inter her in the monastery, and then THE MONK can go downstairs to the crypt and rape her there, because she’ll be entirely in his power. I was okay with this except that, when the plan goes into effect, we see Antonia’s heartbeat grow “sluggish” and she subsequently “expires.” But then, stealthily, THE MONK gets anxious and checks her pulse AND SHE STILL HAS A PULSE.
Like I know eighteenth-century Spanish medicine wasn’t so much when you compare it to our modern standards, but they presumably knew about pulses, right? They presumably had sufficient knowledge of how to where they don’t inter people who still have a pulse?
Whatever. I don’t even care. Next there’s a mighty nun showdown where Non-Evil Nun Ursula gives a speech to a crowd explaining how the nunnery murdered poor Agnes, and the crowd promptly riots and stones half the nuns to death. A disillusioned Lorenzo goes running into the nunnery for reasons I can’t be bothered to remember, and guess what he discovers there.
If you guessed “oubliette,” you are correct (I WAS RIGHT). If you guessed “oubliette containing ZOMBIE NUN,” you are even correcter.
Okay. I actually can’t top that. I’m done for the day. Zombie nun.1
I have never been so excited to get back to a monastery. The next section of the Monkalong (hosted by the fabulous Alice of Reading Rambo!) returns us to the titular character, THE MONK, who experiences brief but intense postcoital regret, which Matilda quickly talks him out of. Using wiles.
Quote: “Ambrosio rioted in delights till then unknown to him.” Ahahahahahahahahahaha. I would read three more chapters about Ambrosio discovering sex. Ambrosio discovers hand jobs! Ambrosio discovers oral! Ambrosio buys a butt plug!
Okay, but then, because THE MONK is a garbage human being and he always was, he starts liking Matilda less and less. Don’t get me wrong. He continues to sleep with her. He’s just resentful about it. He’s like, why is she having so much sex with me? What’s wrong with her that she’s willing to have sex with me all the time?
Quote: ” She assumed a sort of courage and manliness in her manners and discourse but ill-calculated to please him.”
His frustration with Matilda and her perpetual sexual availability even extends to the picture of the Madonna that he once cherished (for reasons that are too stupid to record here, the portrait looks like Matilda), and — in probably my favorite moment of this section — he tears the picture off the wall and screams “PROSTITUTE” at it.
Anyway, the next thing that happens (I knew it) is that he becomes obsessed with beautiful virginal ingenue Antonia. By agreeing to visit her sick mother (Elvira is sick by this time) as her confessor, he gets to be at Antonia’s house all the time in secret. Elvira, possibly the only non-stupid person in this story, doesn’t trust him. When THE MONK tries to hang out with Antonia just the two of them, Elvira gives it the absolute side-eye.
However, lest we get too attached to Elvira, I should also mention that she copies out the Bible by hand for Antonia, excluding any passages that she thinks would not be appropriate for Antonia’s Innocence ™. Good work, Elvira. Top-notch parenting.
So THEN Ambrosio makes out with Antonia in private because he thinks she’s into it, and THEN he goes back to the monkery, where Matilda tells him she can get Antonia for him as long as he’s willing to deal in a little black magic. Ambrosio says no, but then Matilda busts out her magic mirror (she has a magic mirror), and knowing that the one thing THE MONK can’t resist is boobs, she uses her magic mirror to show him Antonia’s boobs, and he’s immediately like YES OKAY I AGREE TO SERVE SATAN.
Downstairs they go to do spells with Satan, and Satan gives THE MONK a twig that will allow him to gain access to Antonia’s bedroom and have sex with her while she’s unconscious.
Oh, and Matilda is careful to specify that Antonia will know, when she wakes up, that she’s been raped, but she just won’t know who raped her. WHY THOUGH. WHY MAKE IT BE THIS WAY. You guys are jerks. Matilda also tells THE MONK that this is the absolute last thing Lucifer will do for him on Matilda’s behalf. If THE MONK wants further favors from the devil, he will have to make his own contract with him.
Hm. Wonder if that’s going to come to fruition.
Although The Monk is gearing up for super icky rape, this section was still more interesting than the last one. I’m dreading the following chapters, which I have to assume are going to return, at some point, to Boring Agnes and Boring Lorenzo and Boring Alphonso. You know who I miss? I miss Christoval. Let’s get that guy back in here.
Y’all, I was mad at this section of the readalong, but can I confess something real quick? The person I was really mad at . . . was me.
When I wrote my post for Monkalong Part 1, I didn’t say anything about Lorenzo’s sister Agnes, who got pregnant WHILE A NUN. In my defense, so many goddamn things happened in the first two chapters that it was really hard to figure out where to focus my attention, and THE MONK was just more interesting than poor old Agnes, as well as being, you know, the eponymous character. Obviously Matthew Gregory Lewis caught wind of this omission on my part, because the next two chapters were the Incredibly Lengthy Saga of How Agnes Got Pregnant While a Nun.
What follows are nesting-doll stories in which Agnes’s lover, Alphonso (also, coincidentally, the relative whom sweet dumb Antonia hopes to convince to give her money) tries to prove to Lorenzo that he is legit, and part of that story includes another lady telling Alphonso a story to prove that she is legit, and her story includes the first instance in this book of rape. And hopefully also the last because that is not my jam. You better watch out, Matthew Gregory Lewis. You are on the thinnest of ice with this.
The story Alphonso tells Lorenzo occupies two chapters. To put that into perspective, there are twelve chapters in this book total. That means that more than fifteen percent of this book is just Alphonso explaining to Lorenzo how and why he knocked up Lorenzo’s sister. At the end of this UNBELIEVABLY LONG GODDAMN STORY, Lorenzo tells Alphonso that ordinarily he’d have to kill Alphonso to defend his sister’s honor, but in this case he’s not going to do it because, and God knows I quote, “The temptation was too great to be resisted.” What the shit, Matthew Gregory Lewis.
Then Alphonso goes home and there’s a poem. You can fuck right off, sir, if you think that I’m going to read a damn poem after you just wasted thirty-two thousand words (I counted) on a story that you could have told in two sentences, to wit: “I snuck into the monastery. We had sex.”
Lorenzo gets Alphonso to agree to financially support Antonia and her mother, and in a shocking twist, when he tells this to Antonia’s mother, Elvira does not immediately offer Antonia to him in marriage out of gratitude.
Instead she says that Lorenzo can marry Antonia if his whole family agrees to it in writing or something. That Lorenzo doesn’t get all entitled and furious about this and make assignations with Antonia in secret kind of makes me think better of him. I mean, that, and the time he had to sit through an hours-long story about How His Sister Got Pregnant While a Nun.
Finally, Lorenzo goes to the convent with a papal dispensation calling for Agnes’s release so she can marry Alphonso and live in wedded bliss, the Mean Nun in charge of the convent tells him that Agnes is DEAD.
I revise my earlier statement. I am mad at me for not talking about Agnes in my last post, but I am much madder at Matthew Gregory Goddamn Lewis for making me sit through thirty-two thousand words just to explain how one lady got knocked up.
Thanks as ever to Alice for hosting this gloriously insane readalong! Head over to her place for (possibly) more measured remarks on this section, which despite the title of the book contains absolutely no MONK whatsoever.