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Jack’s Naughty Bits: Matthew Lewis, The Monk

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Jack's Naughty Bits
My innocence got swiped rather late. The summer after my senior year of high school, I finally had sex, but thinking back, that wasn’t the moment of my fall. After all, innocence lost is not simply an external thing like getting laid. It’s an internal condition or mutation, the sudden recognition of a desire never felt before. Or, in my case, the recognition of the ferocious desire of another person — an event that finally clued me in to the glories of the female libido, and raised the stakes to a height from which they’d never descend.

    

She was a college girl down from Chicago to visit a friend; I was the unsuspecting hayseed providing local color, ready rube for a rustic romp. I don’t know if she guessed my age: with my adolescent acne, post-punk bob haircut and underfed sapling torso, I could have passed for thirteen. But I was seventeen, and more than a little terrified by the idea of a girl in her twenties. And a girl-terror she was: blonde, bouncing, brash, freckled, Chicago-Irish with all the confidence and volume that goes with it. As I remember it, one minute we were dancing, the music was loud but she was even louder, and then she was insisting. And I was like a stranger to the customs, or at least to the language; I didn’t know why we were going outside; I didn’t know why her lips were on mine, why her hand was in my pants, why my bare ass was on the grass, and why, oh why, her lips were on . . .

    

Suddenly, it clicked why: all of it, all at once. And at that moment my innocence, overstayed guest, finally packed his bag.

    

This week’s Naughty Bit is a similar tale of theft. The boy hero is the young protagonist Ambrosio of Matthew Lewis’ fabulous late eighteenth-century Gothic novel The Monk. In a certain sense, the entire novel is about loss of innocence — or the slide, as it were, once one begins. Here is the critical first step: seduction at the hands of Matilda.


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From The Monk by Matthew Lewis

“Live for me, Matilda; for me and gratitude.” — (He caught her hand, and pressed it rapturously to his lips.) — “Remember our late conversations; I now consent to every thing. Remember in what lively colours you described the union of souls; be it ours to realize those ideas. Let us forget the distinctions of sex, despise the world’s prejudices, and only consider each other as brother and friend. Live, then, Matilda, oh! Live for me!”

    

“Ambrosio, it must not be. When I thought thus, I deceived both you and myself: either I must die at present, or expire by the lingering torments of unsatisfied desire. Oh! Since we last conversed together, a dreadful veil has been rent from my eyes. I love you no longer with the devotion which is paid to a saint; I prize you no more for the virtues of your soul; I lust for the enjoyment of your person. The woman reigns in my bosom, and I am become prey to the wildest of passions. Away with friendship! ‘Tis a cold unfeeling word: my bosom burns with love, with unutterable love, and love must be its return. Tremble then, Ambrosio, tremble to succeed in your prayers. If I live, your truth, your reputation, your reward of a life past in sufferings, all that you value, is irretrievably lost. I shall no longer be able to combat my passions, shall seize every opportunity to excite your desires, and labour to effect your dishonour and my own. No, no, Ambrosio, I must not live; I am convinced with every moment that I have but one alternative; I feel with every heart-throb, that I must enjoy you or die.”

    

“Amazement! Matilda! Can it be you who speak to me?”

    

He made a movement as if to quit his seat. She uttered a loud shriek, and, raising herself half out of the bed, threw her arms round the friar to detain him.

    

“Oh! Do not leave me! Listen to my errors with compassion: in a few hours I shall be no more: yet a little, and I am free from this disgraceful passion.”

    

“Wretched woman, what can I say to you? I cannot — I must not — But live, Matilda! Oh, live!”

    

“You do not reflect on what you ask. What? Live to plunge myself in infamy? To become the agent of hell? To work the destruction both of you and of myself? Feel this heart, father.”

    

She took his hand. Confused, embarrassed, and fascinated, he withdrew it not, and felt her heart throb under it.

    

“Feel this heart, father! It is yet the seat of honour, truth, and chastity: if it beats tomorrow, it must fall a prey to the blackest crimes. Oh, let me then die today! Let me die while I yet deserve the tears of the virtuous. Thus will I expire!” — (She reclined her head upon his shoulder; her golden hair poured itself over his chest.) — “Folded in your arms, I shall sink to sleep; your hand shall close my eyes forever, and your lips receive my dying breath. And will you not sometimes think of me? Will you not sometimes shed a tear upon my tomb? Oh, yes, yes, yes! That kiss is my assurance.”

    

The hour was night. All was silence around. The faint beams of a solitary lamp darted upon Matilda’s figure, and shed through the chamber a dim, mysterious light. No prying eye or curious ear was near the lovers: nothing was heard but Matilda’s melodious accents. Ambrosio was in the full vigour of manhood; he saw before him a young and beautiful woman, the preserver of his life, the adorer of his person; and whom affection for him had reduced to the brink of the grave. He sat upon her bed; his hand rested upon her bosom; her head reclined voluptuously upon his breast. Who then can wonder if he yielded to the temptation? Drunk with desire, he pressed his lips to those which sought them; his kisses vied with Matilda’s in warmth and passion: he clasped her rapturously in his arms; he forgot his vows, his sanctity, and his fame; he remembered nothing but the pleasure and opportunity.

    

“Ambrosio! Oh, my Ambrosio!” sighed Matilda.

    

“Thine, ever thine,” murmured the friar, and sunk upon her bosom.