The Image of Religion and its Function in M. G. Lewis’ 'The Monk' and B. Stoker’s 'Dracula'

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

20 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Image of Religion in The Monk
2.1 The Societal Perspective
2.2 The Institutional Perspective
2.3 The Theological Perspective
2.4 Conclusion: Image of Christian Religion in The Monk

3. The Image of Religion in Dracula
3.1 The Societal Perspective
3.1.1 Religion in the Lives of the People
3.1.2 Religion and Science
3.2 The Institutional Perspective
3.3 The Theological Perspective
3.3.1 Vampirism as a Rival to Religion
3.3.2 The Battle for the Soul
3.3.3 Religion Reduced to an Apotropaic Device?
3.3.4 Van Helsing’s Faith
3.4 Conclusion: Image of Christian Religion in Dracula

4. The (Ongoing) Threat of Evil in The Monk and Dracula

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Undoubtedly, religion plays an important role in early Gothic literature. In most cases this does not seem a positive one as can be seen at first glance in Matthew G. Lewis’ The Monk (1796). Most likely this also reflects a tendency of the post- enlightenment period in which it was written. However, it is interesting to ask how the view on religion and its role in Gothic texts developed in the 18thcentury. Therefore, I will compare The Monk to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) written roughly a hundred years later, which gives a more sophisticated view on religion.

In order to structure the wide topic of religion I will present three different perspectives of religion: the societal, the institutional, and the theological. These three strands will first be traced in The Monk and as a second step in comparison to it in Dracula. The theological perspective on religion in Stoker’s novel will be allowed more room as this is at the heart of the question whether religion receives a positive or a negative reputation in Dracula.

I will argue that religion in The Monk but also in Dracula is indispensable. Furthermore, I will give evidence for the thesis that religion in Dracula is not merely reduced to an apotropaic device against vampires but has a high significance for the whole of the characters’ lives. This is further emphasised in the last part of the paper, in which I will compare the endings of both novels. As the different Christian denominations have already been researched in depth, I will only briefly touch on this subject and mainly focus on Christian religion as such.

2.The Image of Religion in The Monk

Talking about Christian religion in The Monk means talking about Roman Catholicism or rather the narrator’s portrayal of it. From the very beginning of the novel no alternative is given to the pretentious and corrupt religiosity in Madrid.1

In the following I will discuss three perspectives from which religion is presented in The Monk: the social, institutional, and theological perspective. From neither of them Christianity is regarded in a positive light.

2.1 The Societal Perspective

In his2 first sentences of The Monk the narrator already describes the people in the cathedral as hypocrites: “Do not encourage the idea, that the crowd was assembled wither from motives of piety or thirst of information.”3 Leonella’s behaviour serves as an example for the narrator’s statement: she rudely pushes her way through the crowd (cf. 12), she continuously swears (“Holy Virgin!” (12), “Blessed Maria!” (14), “Holy St Barbara” (14) etc.) and – like everyone else – she engages in conversation regardless of the fact that she is in church. Only for Ambrosio’s sermon are the conversations interrupted.

As for the sermon it becomes clear that the narrator does not consider the sermon by any means important. While the dialogue between Leonella, Antonia, and the two men is minutely reproduced, the sermon is not even paraphrased.4 By only describing its effect on the gathered people (cf. 20-21) the narrator states that neither he nor the listeners care much for its content. The effects depictedare merely produced by Ambrosio’s fame as well as his clever use of rhetoric and not so much by the content of what he is saying.

Another example of how little society is rooted in religious piety is Don Raymond. He is willing to break the laws of the nunnery of St Clare repeatedly just to fulfil his desire for Agnes: “These meetings [sc. with Agnes] continued for several weeks” (161). In other words: religion is far less important than the fulfilment of his love. By forgiving Raymond this is also acknowledged by Lorenzo (cf. 166).

It is then significant how a larger part of society proceeds with the prioress once she is charged with the murder of Agnes. Even if it is not taken into account that she represents a religious institution, the people’s violence is still beyond comparison: they “dragged her through the streets, spurning her, trampling her, and treating her with every species of cruelty which hate or vindictive fury could invent” (306). In this action of the mob the narrator impressively shows how little of religious values like peace, love, and forgiveness5 Madrid’s people really have internalised.

2.2 The Institutional Perspective

The most obvious example for the corrupt institution of the church is Ambrosio. As this does not need much explanation I only briefly mention that he is still considered “The Man of Holiness” (19) while behind the walls of the monastery he gives in to his lust (cf. 81), he rapes Antonia (cf. 328), and later on in prison he shows greater confidence in the devil than in God by selling his soul to Lucifer (cf. 372).

Apart from Ambrosio there are many more examples of wrong- doing in the name of the Catholic Church or within religious institutions. Marguerite mentions the story of a “robber, who had once been a monk” (108). Furthermore, there is the example of Beatrice de las Cisternas, who is a nun willing not only to love a man but also to kill for her lover (cf. 151-2). Beyond that, the prioress of the convent of St Clare carries out the brutal punishment of Agnes only for the sake of her reputation: “To-morrow Agnes shall be made a terrible example of my justice and resentment” (199).6

Besides, the higher ecclesiastical ranks are also presented as questionable. When the narrator describes the procedure of the Inquisition it is not portrayed positively. The inquisitors are “[d]etermined to make him confess not only the crimes which he had committed, but those also of which he was innocent” (362). This might hint to the sheer lust of torturing but definitely questions the authority of such an institution.

2.3 The Theological Perspective

In The Monk the narrator also goes so far as to weaken Christian concepts of reality. Supernatural incidents that were rationally explained in the enlightenment are now presented as real. Examples for this are the intentional references of the Bleeding Nun and the Wandering Jew with the exorcism (cf. 140-54), the effect of the satanic myrtle (cf. 238; 259-261), the ‘magic’ mirror (cf. 232-3) and its bursting (cf. 361) etc. By all this the concept of God as the almighty ruler of the earth is seriously weakened: nothing or no one prevents these supernatural incidents from happening – no God intervenes.

This tendency is emphasised by introducing the figure of the devil. Throughout the novel he is explicitly present in the supposed conjuration by Matilda alone (cf. 201), together with Ambrosio (cf. 237-9), and the two conjurations by Ambrosio in his cell (cf. 368-77). The devil’s revelation toAmbrosio is particularly important: “I long have marked you for my prey” (375).


1 Campbell: p. 4 also makes this observation: “He [sc. the narrator] posits no moral alternative to the ‘superstition’ of Madrid.”

2 For reasons of comprehensibility I use the grammatically masculine form in this term paper. However, the feminine form is always meant to be included.

3 Cf. Lewis: p. 11. All further quotes from The Monk are given in the text and are taken from Matthew G. Lewis: The Monk (1796), ed. Christopher MacLachlan, London, Penguin, 1998.

4 Cf. Campbell: p.3, “Though Lewis records the dialogue between these four characters exactly, he gives only a brief description of the effect Ambrosio’s sermon has on its listeners, not even paraphrasing its content.”

5 Cf. e. g. Matthew 5:21-26; 1.John 4:19-21. Quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

6 Cf. also Agnes’ report of the events (343-356).

Excerpt out of 20 pages


The Image of Religion and its Function in M. G. Lewis’ 'The Monk' and B. Stoker’s 'Dracula'
University of Heidelberg  (Institut für Anglistik)
Hauptseminar "The Gothic"
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Image, Religion, Function, Lewis’, Monk, Stoker’s, Dracula
Quote paper
Eric Weidner (Author), 2006, The Image of Religion and its Function in M. G. Lewis’ 'The Monk' and B. Stoker’s 'Dracula', Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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