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Matthew Gregory Lewis

Matthew Gregory Lewis Matthew Gregory Lewis[1†]

Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775–1818) was an English novelist known for Gothic horror, earning the nickname "Monk" Lewis after his hit novel "The Monk" (1796). He also served as a diplomat, politician, and Jamaican estate owner, showcasing his diverse talents and interests. Lewis' influential writings and varied career portray him as a multifaceted figure in the Gothic genre and beyond[1†][2†][3†][4†].

Early Years and Education

Matthew Gregory Lewis was born in London on July 9, 1775[2†][1†][5†]. He was the first-born child of Matthew and Frances Maria Sewell Lewis[2†][1†]. His father, Matthew Lewis, was the son of William Lewis and Jane Gregory and was born in England in 1750[2†][1†]. His mother, Frances Maria Sewell, was the third daughter of the senior judge Sir Thomas Sewell[2†][1†].

Lewis was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford[2†][1†][5†]. During his time at Westminster, Lewis’s parents separated[2†][1†]. His mother moved to France, and while there, she was in continuous correspondence with Matthew[2†][1†]. The correspondence between Matthew and his mother consisted of discussion regarding the poor state of his mother’s welfare and estate[2†][1†].

In addition to Matthew Gregory Lewis, Matthew and Frances had three other children: Maria, Barrington, and Sophia Elizabeth[2†][1†]. On 23 July 1781, when Matthew was six and his youngest sister one-and-a-half years old, Frances left her husband, taking the music master, Samuel Harrison, as her lover[2†][1†]. During their estrangement, Frances lived under a different name, Langley, in order to hide her location from her husband[2†][1†].

Career Development and Achievements

Matthew Gregory Lewis’s career was as multifaceted as it was influential. After completing his education at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford[1†][2†], Lewis served as attaché to the British embassy at The Hague[1†][2†]. He was also a member of Parliament from 1796 to 1802[1†][2†].

In 1812, Lewis inherited a fortune and large properties in Jamaica[1†][2†]. He was sincerely interested in the conditions of his 500 slaves and made two West Indian voyages[1†][2†]. Unfortunately, he contracted yellow fever on his return from the second voyage and died at sea[1†][2†].

Lewis’s literary career began with the publication of his Gothic novel “The Monk” in 1796[1†][2†][6†]. The novel, written when Lewis was just 19, was influenced by the leading Gothic novelist, Ann Radcliffe, and also by stronger contemporary German Gothic literature[1†][2†]. Its emphasis on horror rather than romance, its violence, and its eroticism made it avidly read, though universally condemned[1†][2†]. The success of “The Monk” earned Lewis the nickname “Monk” Lewis[1†][2†][6†].

Following the success of “The Monk”, Lewis wrote a popular musical drama in the same vein, “The Castle Spectre”, which was produced by the dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan[1†][2†]. The play was performed in 1797 and published in 1798[1†][2†].

Lewis’s other lasting work was a triumph of a very different nature, the “Journal of a West India Proprietor” (published 1834), attesting to his humane and liberal attitudes[1†][2†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Matthew Gregory Lewis was a prolific writer, with his works spanning various genres including novels, poems, translations, short stories, collections, plays, and non-fiction[7†]. Here are some of his main works:

Each of these works contributed to Lewis’s reputation as a significant figure in the Gothic literary genre. His writings often worked on the reader’s imagination through the arousal of suspense and terror[7†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Matthew Gregory Lewis, one of the most successful British dramatists of the Romantic era, is best known today for his authorship of the extravagant Gothic novel, “The Monk: A Romance”, originally published in 1796 as "Ambrosio: Or, The Monk"[6†][9†]. This lurid tale of human perversity, with its seductive demons and bleeding ghosts, sold prodigiously during Lewis’s lifetime and remains standard reading for anyone studying the development of the English novel[6†].

Despite the objections of moralists and literary critics alike, “The Monk” stirred considerable interest, some of it admiring but much of it amused[6†]. The novel shocked even the scandalous Lord Byron and was high on the reading list of the Marquis de Sade[6†][9†]. Despite all the initial attention, Lewis’s work became less popular in the twentieth century, but its place in literature is important[6†][9†].

“The Monk” is a variation of the Gothic novel. As written by Lewis, the Gothic novel works under no constraints, unfolding with one supernatural encounter after another[6†][9†]. Interfering ghosts tamper with human destiny, and magic works as demons and men interact[6†][9†]. The plot is resolved in a deus ex machina conclusion that involves Satan himself[6†][9†].

Lewis, who was first and foremost a playwright, does not present complex characters and motivations in "The Monk"[6†][9†]. Because the supernatural is a controlling force in human affairs as of the novel’s outset, complex characterization is impossible[6†][9†]. Lewis denied his creation some of the elements that make a novel great, but he produced a good story, and the novel is not without moral purpose and lessons[6†][9†].

One such lesson is shown by Antonia’s fate, for her innocence is no defense against evil[6†][9†]. Another lesson is contained in the major theme of the novel, that pride is a vice that can pervert all virtues, even religious piety[6†][9†]. This theme is exemplified in the decline and fall of Father Ambrosio[6†][9†].

Despite its indulgence in eroticism and violence, “The Monk” serves as a warning about the dangers of uncontrolled passion[6†][10†]. Lewis thus develops the central theme of the Gothic novel, the assertion of the irrational over the rational in a nightmare world of demoniac, obsessive behaviors[6†][10†].

Personal Life

Matthew Gregory Lewis was born into a wealthy and socially prominent London family[11†]. His parents separated while he was young, which created an emotional strain that endured throughout his life[11†]. His mother, Frances Maria Sewell Lewis, left his father, taking the music master, Samuel Harrison, as her lover[11†][1†]. During their estrangement, Frances lived under a different name, Langley, in order to hide her location from her husband[11†][1†].

On 23 July 1781, when Matthew was six and his youngest sister one-and-a-half years old, Frances left her husband[11†][1†]. On 3 July 1782, Frances gave birth to a child[11†][1†]. That same day, hearing of the birth, her estranged husband returned[11†][1†]. Afterwards, he began to arrange a legal separation from his wife[11†][1†].

In addition to Matthew Gregory Lewis, Matthew and Frances had three other children: Maria, Barrington, and Sophia Elizabeth[11†][1†]. Lewis owned considerable property in Jamaica, within four miles of Savanna-la-Mer, or Savanna-la-Mar, which was hit by a devastating earthquake and hurricane in 1779[11†][1†]. His son would later inherit this property[11†][1†].

Lewis was sincerely interested in the conditions of his 500 slaves in Jamaica[11†][2†]. He made two West Indian voyages, contracted yellow fever on his return from the second, and died at sea[11†][2†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Matthew Gregory Lewis, often referred to as “Monk” Lewis due to the sensational success of his Gothic novel The Monk (1796), is remembered as one of the most successful British dramatists of the Romantic era[6†]. His work, particularly The Monk, created a sensation among his contemporaries and remains standard reading for anyone studying the development of the English novel[6†]. Despite the objections of moralists and literary critics alike, this lurid tale of human perversity, with its seductive demons and bleeding ghosts, sold prodigiously during Lewis’s lifetime[6†].

Lewis’s fascination with the sensational was evident in his other works as well, including his translations of German romances[6†]. His work was often derived from or influenced by German sources, reflecting the contemporary interest in German Gothic literature[6†][2†][6†].

In addition to his literary contributions, Lewis was also an important writer of popular songs, many of which appeared first in his plays[6†]. His songs, such as “The Banks of Allan Water” and “The Wind It Blows Cold”, were extremely popular in the early nineteenth century[6†].

In the years before his death, Lewis spent most of his time on the Jamaican estates he had inherited[6†][11†]. By all accounts, Lewis was a compassionate man who advocated the abolition of slavery[6†][11†]. His humane and liberal attitudes were reflected in his Journal of a West India Proprietor[6†][2†], which attests to his sincere interest in the conditions of his slaves[6†][2†].

Matthew Gregory Lewis’s contributions to literature and his compassionate stance on social issues have left a lasting legacy. His work continues to influence the field of Gothic literature, and he is widely regarded as one of the leading figures of his generation[6†][2†][6†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Matthew Gregory Lewis [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Matthew Gregory Lewis: English writer [website] - link
  3. Wikiwand - Matthew Gregory Lewis - Wikiwand [website] - link
  4. Kiddle Encyclopedia - Matthew Gregory Lewis Facts for Kids [website] - link
  5. Britannica Kids - Matthew Gregory Lewis [website] - link
  6. eNotes - Matthew Gregory Lewis Analysis [website] - link
  7. The Victorian Web - Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775-1818) — Works [website] - link
  8. Wikisource (English) - Matthew Gregory Lewis [website] - link
  9. eNotes - The Monk Critical Evaluation [website] - link
  10. eNotes - The Monk Critical Essays [website] - link
  11. Encyclopedia.com - Lewis, Matthew Gregory (1775 - 1818) [website] - link
  12. Infoplease - Lewis, Matthew Gregory [website] - link
  13. Goodreads - Author: Matthew Gregory Lewis (Author of The Monk) [website] - link
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