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Romanticism on the Net

Numéro 8, novembre 1997

Matthew Lewis's The Monk

Sous la direction de Fred Frank

Direction : Michael Eberle-Sinatra (directeur)

Éditeur : Université de Montréal

ISSN : 1467-1255 (numérique)

DOI : 10.7202/005766ar

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Article

Cloistered Closets: Enlightenment Pornography, The Confessional State, Homosexual Persecution and The Monk

Clara Tuite

University of Melbourne


1

This essay offers a reading of Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796) which attempts to elaborate Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's claim that "the Gothic was the first novelistic form in England to have close, relatively visible links to male homosexuality". [1] I wish to do this by considering a number of interrelated contexts of production and reception for The Monk , namely, the generic pretexts of eighteenth-century pre- and post-Revolutionary French anti-clerical pornography and of British anti-Catholic genres from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; Whig aristocratic libertinism; the French Revolution and British counter-revolution; renewed campaigns of homosexual persecution in Britain and Northern Europe; and, in particular, the relationship between the British Protestant state and homosexual persecution in the context of the campaign for Catholic Emancipation from the late 1770s.

2

The Monk 's opening invocation of the city of Madrid under the sign of "superstition" [2] engages the potent indigenous tradition of British anti-Catholic genres developed from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Impressing the Spanish Inquisition upon the eighteenth-century anti-Catholic popular imagination, Lewis's The Monk , published in 1796, occupies a comfy parodic chair between such superlative examples of enthusiastic Protestant denunciation of Spain as John Marchant's The Bloody Tribunal; or, an Antidote Against Popery being a review of the Horrid Cruelties of the Inquisition (1756) and J. J. Stockdale's The History of the Inquisition: Including the Secret Transactions of the Horrific Tribunes (1810). [3]

3

Into this mix of feverish Protestant pretexts, The Monk enfolds an Enlightenment tropology of light and unveiling, by way of contemporary French anti-clerical pornographic texts, particularly dramas, such as Jacques Marie Boutet de Monvel's The Cloistered Victims (1791) and Benoit Joseph Marsollier's Camille, or The Vault (1791), both of which feature the conventual punishment of live burial restaged in The Monk , as well The Convent (1792), by the Enlightenment feminist and Girondist supporter, Olympe de Gouges, which features the overthrowing of a convent, also restaged in The Monk . [4]

4

Reviewing the novel in 1797, and writing from a counter-revolutionary and nominal Anglican position—which nominally deplored both superstition and enthusiasm—Coleridge objected to the "blending , with an irreverent negligence, all that is most awfully true in religion with all that is most ridiculously absurd in superstition", as well as to the text's "libidinous minuteness". [5] Coleridge's reading attests to the fear that nominal Anglicanism, the "awfully true ... religion," cannot be distinguished from Catholicism, identified with "superstition". And this is indeed the fear that haunts the Protestant confessional state which came into being as a protest against Catholicism. [6] Coleridges reading suggests a form of nominal Anglicanism haunted by a paranoid fear that it cannot separate itself from its diabolical other (a Catholic other to be distinguished yet again from the low other of Protestant enthusiasm). [7]

5

Read as a parody of these earlier Protestant pretexts, Lewis's text engages Francis Bacon's reference to the early seventeenth century Puritan reformers of the Church of Rome, as practitioners of the "superstition in avoiding superstition". [8] And it is precisely this form of "superstition" that informs Coleridge's "awfully true religion" and his fear of Lewis' contamination of Protestantism by Catholicism. This formulation also suggests the contradiction underlying the British Protestant state, which held the repudiation of "superstitious" Roman Catholicism as a defining article of faith. "Superstition in avoiding superstition" suggests the circular structure of paranoia, a structure informing the institutional and legislative machinery of the British Protestant state from 1689, which is generated by the fear of a divided or double allegiance on the part of Roman Catholics to the state of Britain and the church of Rome. In this way, then, the Protestant confessional state, demanding allegiance to the single creed of Protestantism, but beset by the fear of a double allegiance, enacts its own paranoid Gothic plot. On one level, this historical Gothic plot can be seen to be engaged generically in the late eighteenth-century Gothic novel as the paranoid Gothic plot of anti-Catholicism.

6

Both the 1780s, which saw the renewed campaign for Catholic Emancipation, and the 1790s, are significant periods in this history of the Protestant (specifically Anglican) confessional state. If anything, the 1790s constituted, as one contemporary commentator has argued, the "anni mirabili of ... pro-Catholic and ... pro-Irish sentiments on the Right". [9] This was largely because the cause of the Catholic church during the French Revolution was identified with the cause of all churches. And it is precisely because of this identification that Lewis's attack on the church and the Inquisitional regime generates another uncomfortable blend for Coleridge. What is significant about 1790s' Gothic—and about the 1790s period and the Gothic genre—is that it is not at all clear that the Gothic worked or was received as unproblematically Protestant and anti-Catholic. Coleridge's review clearly suggests unease with this. What Lewis's text offers is for Coleridge an uncomfortable blend of Protestant anti-Catholicism with French revolutionary anti-Catholicism, and the mock-didacticism associated with Lewis's French revolutionary champion, the Marquis De Sade.

7

Arguably, the entrenched reputation of The Monk as a pro-Revolutionary Jacobin text derives from its championship by the Marquis De Sade in the Reflections on the Novel (published in 1800). Arguing for Lewis's pre-eminence over Mrs. Radcliffe as a practitioner of the new British Gothic genre, Sade claims that "foremost among [these new novels of sorcery and phantasmagoria] I would place The Monk , which is superior in all respects to the strange flights of Mrs Radcliffe's brilliant imagination." [10] However, for Sade, whilst Lewis's work is superior to that of Mrs Radcliffe, it nonetheless involves a kind of "wizardry" in which the "reader's interest soon flags" and which falls short of the kind of Enlightenment verisimilitude privileged by Sade in the principle of "[c]rime laid bare". Sade's qualification notwithstanding, I wish to argue that there is an important way in which the text does conform to this Enlightenment ideology of laying bare.

8

In the novel's main French revolutionary plot, which stages the transformation of a religious procession into the overthrow of a convent, materialist Enlightenment as both institutional and corporeal unveiling and de-frocking is comprehended in the proclamation of the plucky Sister Ursula as she ascends the "vacant Throne" of the deposed Domina to lead the revolutionary charge: "Mine is the task to rend the Veil from Hypocrisy." [11] This unmasking, revelation and rending the veil of church hypocrisy—opening superstitious church institutions to the light of reason— is a conventional Enlightenment trope, [12] and suggests a sense in which The Monk in particular and the Gothic genre in general is not a reaction to the Enlightenment (as is often suggested) but a form of Enlightenment discourse.

9

To argue that The Monk involves an Enlightenment plot is not necessarily to argue that it is Revolutionary, though there has been a tendency to argue that it was both anti-Enlightenment and pro-Revolutionary. To what extent either the work of Lewis or Sade, or the genres of pre- or post-Revolutionary Enlightenment pornography, can be appropriated as inherently revolutionary is highly problematic. In one sense, there is a mutually implicating French Enlightenment and French Revolutionary plot at work in The Monk in the overthrowing of the convent. However, there is also a sense in which this utopian moment (like its historical pretext of the storming of the Bastille) is self-defeating once it is realized in practice. If in this initial utopian moment the text would seem to occupy a position of revolutionary sympathy, the subsequent spectacle of the rioters "clogging up the door-way" and "suffocating" [13] renders the riot and the text illegible as a critique of the Inquisitional regime, and figures this illegibility as a kind of sublime blockage, superimposing Gothic dystopia upon either a conservative Protestant or radical Enlightenment critique of the Inquisitional regime and of the power of resistance. Narratively, the crowd control gets out of hand and complicates this revolutionary plot. And what is narratively a question of crowd control stages the question of the ambivalent relation of the aristocratic Whig libertine subject to the crowd and to the claims of popular and democratic power. In order to demonstrate the highly problematic nature of attempting to graft a libertine sexual practice and rhetoric onto that of popular Revolution, we might invoke the distinction formulated by Karl Toepfer, in his reading of ancien regime Enlightenment theatre, between carnivalesque excess, as implicitly open and democratic, and that of libertine orgy, as secret, closed and exclusive. [14] Indeed, Lewis's text offers a leading example of the distinction between these different dynamics in its generation of the tensions between these competing dynamics throughout the text: a model of the carnivalesque, a mode of representing church ritual as a spectacle dependant upon the collaboration of its spectators, which can and does result in riot, and the aristocratic Whig libertine and ancien regime practice of orgiastic excess.

10

In privileging Lewis's text, Sade, like so many other aristocratic male libertines, identifies the site of repression with the feminine, that is in the texts of Mrs Radcliffe, vis a vis the "veil of secresy" she drapes over her Gothic machinery. This identification of repression with the feminine marks the proximity of libertine discourse to the conventional sexual oppositions of the institutional structures it attacks, and thereby destabilizes the common and available assumption that libertarian ideals of sexual excess and revolutionary ideals of popular or sexual equality are always mutually implicating-when they are in fact very rarely mutually implicating.

11

As I now wish to argue in a more focused reading of the text, not everything is "laid bare" in The Monk . What The Monk does not uncover, what it does not present in "libidinousness minuteness" is the romance plot of monastic male homoeroticism. For the romance plot with which The Monk opens is not the heterosexual romance plot later depicted with the lurid detail that so scandalized contemporary readers, but a homoerotic one. This plot is initiated with the "three soft knocks" on the cell of the eponymous monk Ambrosio, which introduce "the gentle and interesting" Rosario:

Rosario was a young Novice. ... A sort of mystery enveloped this Youth which rendered him at once an object of interest and curiosity. ... His head was continually muffled up in his Cowl; Yet such as his features as accident discovered, appeared the most beautiful and noble. ... The Youth looked up [to Ambrosio] with a respect approaching idolatry. Ambrosio on his side did not feel less attracted towards the Youth. ... no voice sounded so sweet to him as did Rosario's. ... Ambrosio was every day more charmed with the vivacity of his Genius ... and the rectitude of his heart. ... He could not help sometimess indulging a desire secretly to see the face of his Pupil; But this rule of self-denial extended even to curiosity, and prevented him from communicating his wishes to the Youth. [15]

What I want to suggest is that the homoerotic relationship established here between the Abbott and the Novice is specifically pedagogical and pederastic, the kind of relationship which Foucault has defined in The Use of Pleasure as a characteristic homoerotic relationship between a younger and older man, based on an erotics of restraint, or "self-denial". [16] In this erotic economy, whilst desire is repressed or regulated it is still present as a specific form of desire. This economy of pederastic restraint is figured in The Monk through the cowl, a masculine version of the veil, the Gothic trope about which Sedgwick writes in The Coherence of Gothic Conventions : "the veil that conceals and inhibits sexuality comes by the same gesture to represent it, both as a metonym of the thing covered and as a metaphor for the system of prohibitions by which sexual desire is enhanced and specified." [17]

12

As both Foucault and Sedgwick suggest, then, repression is not the elimination of sexuality but a mechanism for the production or elaboration of a specific form of sexuality. And this is attested to by the whole tradition of French Enlightenment pornography predicated on the repressive monastic setting as pornotopia, a tradition which figures significantly in the discursive genealogy of Foucault's own materialist project of sexual Enlightenment. In this sense, then, Ambrosio already has his sexual object in Rosario, safely repressed. And Ambrosio's respect toward the face hidden beneath the cowl—the covered face that solicits desire and the pleasure of deferral—is marked by the restraint of the pederastic erotic economy, which involved, as Foucault points out, the necessity of "transforming ephemeral love into a mutual, egalitarian, and lasting relationship" - that is, the sublimation of erotic interest into friendship. [18] This classical homoerotic paradigm is introduced through Rosario's declaration "Nothing now has charms for me but your friendship, but your affections", [19] where the slightly excessive figure "charms" for friendship is contaminated with the residue of this erotic relation sublimated into friendship.

13

The fact that this Greek ideal is superimposed upon the Christian scenario of a monastery in The Monk is significant. For the displacement of Greece by Catholic Europe as a privileged site of the historical imagination and antiquarian romance is one of the larger cultural contexts constitutive of both the Gothic genre and masculine homosexual identity and performativity in Britain from the middle of the eighteenth century. The transformation in the middle ages of problematizations of truth, love and pleasure from the Greek paradigm of relations between men and boys to the Christian one of relations between the sexes, which Foucault takes up in The Use of Pleasure , is also engaged in The Monk , precisely through its transformation of a homoerotic romance into a heterosexual romance. [20]

14

The romance plot between Ambrosio and Rosario is interrupted with the revelation of Rosario's "true" gender as a woman: Rosario rends open his habit, bares his breast to reveal a "glowing orb" and declares, "I am a woman". [21] He then assumes the name Mathilda, and embarks upon a carnal relationship with Ambrosio, which the sight of Mathilda's "glowing orb" almost immediately propels into action and which is eventually stopped only by its own satiation - at which point Mathilda reveals herself to be the Devil in female form.

15

What is significant here is that Rosario's revelation—in terms of this homoerotic plot—is precisely a strategy of evasion. This unveiling is in fact not an unveiling but a re-veiling in female costume, one step in an ongoing transvestist game by the Devil. On both a representational and textual level, Rosario's gender-switch evades the fugitively inscribed figure of homoerotic desire, by turning one of the men into a woman, even though this gender-switch functions retrospectively to explicitly sexualize the relation between the Abbott and the Novice. This transvestist-crossing instantiates within the text the structural principle of homosexual panic - a denial of and flight from the blackmailability of homosexual implication, into a parodic version of heterosexual relations, a kind of hyper-heterosexuality.

16

What I am suggesting then is that within the expectations set up by the text, homoerotic relations constitute the recessed metonym of a universalized and spectacularized sexual excess. They are introduced only to be buried, and they are evaded and buried precisely at the moment of revelation of Rosario's "true" gender. The heterosexual relations between Ambrosio and Mathilda are of course prohibited in terms of the monastic regime under which they live, but in terms of the text's regime, its own set of conventions, they are explicitly represented or "laid bare", to use Sade's term. This explicit depiction of heterosexual relations is precisely the strategy by which the representation of homoeroticism is evaded or muted or veiled. With the revelation of Rosario's "true" gender, and the flight into heterosexual carnality, orgiastic excess and "libidinous minuteness", homoerotic relations undergo a form of live burial, like the rioting multitude—and the tragic nun Agnes and her rapidly putrefying new-born babe "a loathsome and disgusting Object; To every eye, but a Mother's"[22] —who are buried under the vaults after the convent is overthrown. Besides offering a superlative sentimental-camp conjunction of maternal pathos and the grotesque, this affecting spectacle of Agnes and her baby offers a kind of parody of the misogynist Christian logic by which "the flesh" is condensed as the female body in a monstrous conjunction of the maternal and sexually transgressive female body. At a spectacular tangent to this is the figure of The Bleeding Nun, who neatly corporealizes and metaphorizes the threat posed by female sexuality to the stable paternal house and dynasty as the spilling of noble blood through the promiscuous and duplicitous female body.

17

From the moment at which homoerotic desire is buried under a tableau of heterosexual libidinal excess, two distinct sexual economies are generated within the text: one of orgiastic excess, and one repressed or marked by the operations of the closet. These are the conflicting dynamics that mark the circulation of hetero- and homosexual economies, respectively, within the text. To what extent this tableau of heterosexual excess can be contained within the project of Enlightenment critique is problematic. Monastic and conventual settings in French Enlightenment pornography facilitate the Enlightenment trope of unveiling, aiding the political function of pornography. There's also an erotic level at which this setting is important. As Toepfer suggests, an Enlightenment ideology which identified sexual ecstasy as a condition of enlightenment invested in combining conditions of seduction, indoctrination and instruction as the pre-condition for ecstasy and sexual enlightenment. [23] Given this investment in an erotics of pedagogy, the conventual or monastic setting provided a highly desirable context both erotically and politically. Hence French Enlightenment pornography is often set in a conventual or monastic setting to engage the pedagogical relations that are central to the pornographic and materialist representation of sexual freedom as Enlightenment. The Monk likewise exploits the political and erotic aspects of the monastic setting. What marks The Monk , then, as a libertine text, is not its interrogation of the convent as a site of the anti-family, but its use of the convent as a pretext, a pornotopic setting, for putting into circulation a mode of sexuality as recreational and representational.

18

Clerical sodomy is a pervasive trope in Enlightenment pornography and anti-clerical writing; [24] and the fact that this conventional and available pornographic trope is absent from The Monk when so many other varieties of sexual transgression are spectacularized is significant, I think. The figure of masculine homoeroticism is clearly legible in the text but is spared the graphic, sensational portrayal that heterosexual sex undergoes. So that whilst no restraint is placed upon the language and lurid detail used in the representation of heterosexual sex, the text's Gothic trope of the unspeakable or unnameable is precisely the muted, fugitive figure of homosexuality.

19

This burial of the homoerotic relations between Rosario and Ambrosio involves an elegiac historical allegory, informed by contemporary libertine antiquarianism, of the superimposition of Christianity upon a pederastic classical Greek utopia. [25] In these terms, the text allegorizes the relations between the two monks as a state of innocent pederastic bliss before the Fall into carnal heterosexual relations, a Fall instantiated with the revelation of Rosario's female gender, inscribing the conventional trope of female duplicity and women as agents of the Devil to prepare for the novel's dénouement at which Mathilda is unveiled as a masculine devil. Arguably, this final transvestite unveiling/re-veiling stages a return to the homoerotic plot: a canny closural flourish that unveils and opens out the homoerotic plot beyond the ending. However, by reveiling and reinscribing the trope of homoeroticism as diabolical and pathological this return to the homoerotic plot is also a return to the closet and to the plot of homosexual panic.

20

I have argued so far that these closetting operations of this British Gothic novel in relation to its homoerotic romance plot offer a significant complication of and counter-point to the Enlightenment ideology of revelation. The text's strategy of Enlightenment exposure and revelation uses heterosexual sex to closet a homosexual metonym. [26] And this serves to mark the text in terms of a significant difference between its French and British anti-clerical intertexts: that is, that French anticlericalism attacks the official religion of the state, whilst British anticlericalism attacks a religion officially repudiated and vilified by the Protestant confessional state. [27] I am reading this closeted representation of homoeroticism not to suggest the failure of some sort of an Enlightenment or Revolutionary project in Lewis's text, nor as an exercise in liberating the text's repressed. (Although—to return to the text's French Revolutionary plot—I do think that in its restaging of the Revolution the text engages tensions between distinct operations of aristocratic libertine orgy and the carnivalesque of popular revolution, which in a sense continually test the revolutionary sympathies of aristocratic Whig libertinism and suggest the last point of resistance at which a certain model of Whig libertinism baulks at popular revolution.) Rather, I am interested in reading it as a gesture of protective closetting in the wider cultural context of homosexual persecution in Britain and Northern Europe, which defined itself in opposition to an effeminate Southern Europe. And this is what I'd like to discuss in more detail now.

21

Lewis wrote most of The Monk Lewis when he was stationed as cultural attaché in The Hague from May to December 1794. Lewis's time in The Hague coincided with the stage immediately prior to the Dutch Revolution in 1795, during a significant period of the second stage of the Dutch "Patriot" revolution (from 1780-1787), known as the Orangist counter-revolution (from 1787-1795). More importantly, as recent cultural historians have noted, such as Theo van der Meer, one of the most significant historical features of the Netherlands in the eighteenth century, particularly in the 1790s, is the campaign of homosexual persecution, particularly marked in Amsterdam between 1795-1798, where men accused of soliciting were put on trial and often tortured for confession. [28] Holland can be seen to offer an important writing context for The Monk , both in terms of its revolutionary and sexual plotting. This regime, like the regime of Inquisitional Spain, which offers an available site of displacement in Lewis' text, depended upon the production of confession by torture. In this context, we may locate the text's plot of solicitation for the devil in terms of this context of persecution for homosexual solicitation, elaborating a reading of the homoerotic monastic romance plot in terms of contemporary manifestations of masculine homosexual identity, desire, panic and persecution.

22

Whilst van der Meer does not remark on this fact, the year in which this regime is initiated, 1795, is the year of the Dutch Revolution. Significantly, then, it is a Revolutionary regime - modelled on the Enlightenment ideals that underlay the early stages of the French revolution - that instantiates this regime of homosexual persecution. This serves to complicate yet again the assumption of a neat correlation between revolutionary ideals and sexual equality. The intensity of homosexual persecution in Holland at this time may perhaps be accounted for in terms of reasons advanced by Wijnand W. Mijnhardt to account for the absence of politically and religiously motivated pornography: the bourgeois character of Dutch society and, in particular, its adoption of the ideology of domesticity. [29] Similarly, back home in England, when Lewis returned to Britain in December 1794, the incidence of punishment of homosexuals by pillorying and hangings was on the increase. [30] Louis Crompton has remarked on this crackdown on homosexuality in northern Europe that

it is perhaps not a coincidence that the harsher measures toward homosexuals in England marked the early Hanoverian period and the arrival of a new dynasty. The accession of George I in 1714 symbolized, by the Act of Parliament that legalized it, the ultimate triumph of Protestantism after the equivocal Tudors and Stuarts. With the relaxation of severity in Catholic Europe, persecution moved north to Holland and England in the eighteenth century. Growing tolerance in Italy and France was seen as striking proof of Protestantism's claim to moral superiority over these decadent lands. [31]

The fact that British anti-clericalism attacks a Catholicism officially repudiated by the British Protestant state serves to adumbrate this context of homosexual persecution that informs the text. Both outlawed in the British confessional Protestant state, male homosexuality and Catholicism are marked by a history of tropological substitution and interimplication from the seventeenth century, when their appearance in the figures of James I [32] and James II, respectively, forged a negative association in the context of treason, by which they became mutually implicating signifiers of the "outlandish," [33] the outlawed and the unspeakable.

23

As I wish to suggest, there is no more apt figure for this imbrication of homosexual and Catholic persecution within the confessional British Protestant state than that of the closet. It functions both as a material apparatus of concealment in the estates of aristocratic Catholic and Jacobite families (used by Catholic Priests under Elizabeth I and James I, Cavaliers during the Civil War and Commonwealth, and Jacobites after 1688, to evade state pursuivants), and as a figure for those textual, social and institutional mechanisms of exclusion, entrapment, silencing and self-protection, all instantiated by a homophobic and anti-Catholic confessional state.

24

These "priest's holes", or "hides", as these Gothic closets were known, figure significantly in the material genealogy of the secret closet, which undergoes such a spectacular tropological workout in the Gothic novel genre. [34] And it is in an attempt to historicize and materialize Sedgwick's textual figure of the closet, that I wish to consider the phenomenon of these "priest's holes"—and I deploy this term knowingly with the degree of punning force licensed by the context here—as a material and tropological instantiation of the closet and the cloister, at this nexus of the Gothic genre, Catholicism and masculine homosexuality.

25

It is this imbricated history between Catholic and homosexual persecution which informs that particular form of homosexual performativity that Sedgwick alludes to when she claims that "something recognizable related to one modern stereotype of male homosexuality has existed at least since the seventeenth century - at least for aristocrats. The cluster of associations about this role (the King James Version?) include effeminacy, connoisseurship, high religion, and an interest in Catholic Europe—all links to the Gothic". [35]

26

In order to answer the question as to why this cluster of associations that comes from the seventeenth century should take off in the late eighteenth century, with the initiation of the Gothic genre, we need to consider the movement for Catholic Emancipation from the late 1770s when, up until 1778, Catholic priests were liable to life imprisonment and Catholic chapels were illegal until 1791. To illustrate the reignition of these associations, and of the political significance of a particular kind of interrelationship between the issues of Catholic and homosexual persecution within the Protestant state from the late 1770s, we might briefly consider the figure of Edmund Burke. Son of an Irish Protestant father and Catholic mother; Foxite Whig MP, Burke was a highly visible supporter of the movement for Catholic Emancipation, which developed against the troubled background of Ireland. On account of this pro-Catholic sympathy, a very deep stigma as a "crypto-Catholic" attached itself to Burke, both in the popular press and amongst peers. [36] What is not so often remarked upon is that there was also a very strong stigma that attached to Burke as a result of his support of reducing the measures of homosexual persecution in Britain.

27

In a recent article, Iain McCalman has established decisively the significance of the Gordon Riots in the counter-revolutionary cultural memory of the 1790s, with particular reference to Burke, arguing that the mob violence of the riots which reached their height on the night of June 7 1780 fuelled the horror of the mob that features so largely in Burke's Reflections (1790). [37] I wish to suggest a slightly earlier example of mob violence in 1780 as an additional pretext for the figure of the mob in Burke. This was the pillorying of two men accused of attempted sodomy, a coachman, named William Smith, and a plasterer named Theodosius Reed, on the night of April 10, 1780, which Burke read about in the Daily Advertiser the following morning. That day in Parliament Burke expostulated at large against the mob and against the legal practice which allows the pillory, pleading for mercy on the behalf of others accused of similar crimes, and proposing that a bill be introduced to abolish the pillory since it was open to such abuse. And this spurred other members to recount similar atrocities. Both the Morning Post and the Public Advertiser attacked Burke maliciously for this display of sympathy for the homosexuals. [38]

28

This event and its effect upon Burke certainly problematize the available equation of resistance to popular violence with a conservative position, which is rehearsed in much historiography and cultural history of the Revolutionary period and on Burke. [39] The pillory offers both for Burke and for Lewis a different historical pretext and model of a particular kind of crowd activity quite different from the privileged one of the Revolutionary mob fuelled by a legitimate desire to overcome an oppressive regime.

29

The vitriolic representation of Burke exemplifies the suspicion that attaches itself to the sympathizer both in terms of Catholic Emancipation and homosexual toleration. Burke's persistent representation as an effeminate fop in the British popular press and in the caricatures of the 1780s and 1790s, on issues both of Catholic Emancipation and homosexual toleration, involved the visual conjunction of Catholic with sodomite or sodomee to enjoin the suspicion of the contamination that attached itself to the "sympathizer." [40]

30

Despite the movements for and against Catholic Emancipation, and their capacity to undermine the state, Britain was a comparatively stable Protestant state in the late 1800s. In this sense, the culture of Catholicism was marked by a kind of antiquarian charge, and occupied the status of a curiosity as an object of connoisseurship and a kind of accoutrement - all of which enabled appropriation by practitioners of the Gothic. Catholicism occupied the status of a kind of open secret amongst aristocratic families, involving secret worship, as well as the material evidence of recessed "priest's holes." That is, the practice of Catholicism involved a kind of open secret, sense of exclusivity and performance, as did the performativity which involves cultural agreement about the markers of homosexuality. [41]

31

What I am interested in is how this homosexual performativity operates in historical context as a prerogative and exercise of privilege, on the part of aristocratic Whig libertines, and practitioners of the Gothic, such as Byron, Walpole, Lewis and Beckford (whose abandoned parliamentary seat Lewis assumed in 1796, vacant since Beckford fled to the continent in 1784 as a result of homosexual scandal). [42] As one form of secret social code, like the libertine orgiastic code, that marks entitlement, this performativity is a prerogative of privilege, marked by the protective operations of the closet. In this sense, the closet functions by virtue of this privilege, as a metonym of patronage. Furthermore, I am interested in exploring such instantiations of the closet, as form of shelter and patronage, in comparison with the pillory, to consider how the closet and the pillory offer quite distinct material structures of homosexual persecution and toleration. As Fredric Jameson has argued, "[g]othics are indeed ultimately a class fantasy ... in which the dialectic of privilege and shelter is exercised". [43] And it is this dialectic that can be seen to be enacted in The Monk in its closeted plotting of the monastic homoerotic romance plot, which we can read as a protective gesture, in defiance of the confessional state, in defiance of the culture which relentlessly specularizes the homosexual and the cloister through this renewed culture of persecution.


 Acknowledgment

A shortened version of this essay was delivered at the International Gothic Association Conference, held at St. Mary's University College, Strawberry Hill in July 1997. I would like to thank Iain McCalman, Jon Mee and Gillian Russell for their insightful and constructive comments on an even earlier version of this paper.

 

Notes

[1]

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985) 91.

[2]

See Matthew Lewis, The Monk , ed. Howard Anderson (Oxford: OUP, 1980) 7; hereafter abbreviated as The Monk.

[3]

Stockdale's History is particularly important in the context of concerted attempts within Spain during the 1810s to abolish the Inquisition, far from a medieval relic, alive and well in the 1790s and not finally abolished until 1834. Opponents of the Inquisition within Spain adopted the anti-Catholic imagery and rhetoric of Protestant countries, such as Germany and, particularly, England.

[4]

In correspondence to his mother, whilst holidaying in Paris in the summer of 1791, on vacation from Oxford, Lewis recounts performances of Monvel's The Cloistered Victims (1791) and Marsollier's Camille, or The Vault [see Margaret Baron-Wilson, The Life and Correspondence of M.G. Lewis , 2 vols. (London: Henry Colburn, 1839) I, 60-1. Other important examples of French Enlightenment pornography that have left their mark upon The Monk include Charles Pougens' Julie, ou la Religieuse de Nisme , which also features a conventual live burial and Jacques Cazotte's, Le diable amoureux (1772, trans. 1793). On these French sources, see Montague Summers, The Gothic Quest: A History of the Gothic Novel (London: Fortune Press, 1969) 224ff., and Louis Peck, A Life of Matthew G. Lewis (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1961) 22.

[5]

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "The Monk: a Romance," Review, Critical Review 19 (January 1797) 198. I say nominally because Coleridge participated in standard anti-Catholic invective, referring in 1825 at the height of conservative anti-Catholicism to the Pope as the "Anti-Christ" and to the Catholic religion as his "scarlet Prima Donna". See Coleridges letter to Derwent Coleridge December 21, 1825 in Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge , ed. Earl L. Griggs, 6 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971) V, 528.

[6]

By confessional state, here, I am invoking Jonathan Clark's term, in English Society 1688-1832 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), to describe the nature of the British Protestant state from the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which outlawed the holding of office by Catholics and secured monarchical succession exclusively for Protestants, and which required the performative confession of allegiance to Protestantism on penalty of law. My use of the term "confessional state" involves a deliberate conflation of this quite specific usage with that of Foucault, who coined the term after the "confessional" in Catholic practice to refer to the later secuar, post-Enlightenment order of modernity that is based on the discursive proliferation of sex.

[7]

On Coleridge and the containment of enthusiasm, see Jon Mee, "'Babylon's Fall': Prophecy, Poetry and Politics in the 1790s," The Huntington Library Quarterly (forthcoming, 1997). So, for Coleridge, Lewis's text uncomfortably blends the superstitious with the enthusiastic denunciation of the superstitious. Generically, Joseph Glanvill's Saducismus Triumphatus (1681), favourite reading matter of Lewis's mother when Lewis was a boy, offers an important pretext of "blending" in the way in which it defends belief in witchcraft as an indication of belief in God.

[8]

Quoted in Anne McWhir, "The Gothic Transgression of Disbelief: Walpole, Radcliffe and Lewis," in Gothic Fictions: Prohibition/Transgression , ed. Kenneth W. Graham (New York: AMS Press, 1989) 32, which I would also direct the reader to for a general discussion of Gothic problematizations of Protestant disbelief.

[9]

James Sack, From Jacobite to Conservative:Reaction and orthodoxy in Britain, c.1760-1832 (Cambridge: Cambriege University Press, 1993) 227.

[10]

Marquis De Sade, Reflections on the Novel , in The 120 Days of Sodom and other writings , trans. Austryn Wainhouse and Richard Seaver (New York: Grove Press, 1966; rpt. 1987) 108-09, 116. Sade reads the Gothic genre as "the inevitable result of the revolutionary shocks which all of Europe has suffered" (109).

[11]

The Monk 350.

[12]

William Godwin's Genius of Christianity Unveiled , in part a response to Chateaubriand's 1802 Genius of Christianity , and begun in London where he was in exile since 1793 before returning to France in 1800, rehearses this conventional Enlightenment trope.

[13]

The Monk 358.

[14]

Karl Toepfer, Theatre, Aristocracy and Pornocracy: The Orgy Calculus (New York: PAJ Publications, 1991) 10-13.

[15]

The Monk 41-43.

[16]

Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure , trans. Robert Hurley (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987) 232ff.

[17]

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Coherence of Gothic Conventions (1976; New York: Methuen, 1986) 143.

[18]

Foucault, Use of Pleasure 233. For an account of the implications of a version of Platonic homoeroticism as restraint upon contemporary mores in the Victorian resuscitation of Greek existence, see Linda Dowling, Hellenism and Homosexuality in Victorian Oxford (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994). This deployment of a particular kind of homosexual performativity within a regime of restraint bears out this Foucauldian analysis of the Victorian culture of repression as a culture that produces sex through repression.

[19]

The Monk 44.

[20]

One of the ways in which The Monk is paradigmatic in mapping this shift of the figure of love from homoerotic Greece to heterosexual Catholic Europe, is in its recapitulation of the Faust myth. As Foucault writes, "Faust [offers] an example of the way in which the question of pleasure and that of access to knowledge would be linked to the theme of love for woman, for her virginity, for her purity, her fall, and her redemptive power" [Foucault, Use of Pleasure 229-30].

[21]

The Monk 58.

[22]

The Monk 412.

[23]

Toepfer, Theatre, Aristocracy 78.

[24]

See, for example, the Histoire de Dom Bougre , published in a 16 page version by Restiff de la Bretonne in 1789. I am grateful to Iain McCalman for this reference. As Iain McCalman points out, Pisanus Fraxi's Centuria librorum absconditorum (1879) dedicates over 300 pages to the discussion of such material, most of it French; see Iain McCalman, Radical Underworld: Prophets, Revolutionaries and Pornographers in London, 1795-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) 287.

[25]

The most notable example of contemporary libertine antiquarianism would be the Dilettanti Society, co-founded in by Sir Francis Dashwood, which, as Randolph Trumbach points out "aimed at promoting knowledge of classical civilization" and was interested in the "justification of their sexual lives that the physical remains of ancient classical civilizations seemed to provide", "Erotic Fantasy and Male Libertinism," in The Invention of Pornography: Obscenity and the Origins of Modernity, 1500-1800 , ed. Lynn Hunt (New York: Zone, 1993) 273-4. As Trumbach points out, "there was no sodomy" at Dashwood's Medenham. Richard Payne Knight, who was a sodomite, and his Discourse on the Worship of Priapus (London, 1786), circulated by the Dilettanti Society, offers a better example. His book, like Lewis's, was attacked in T.J. Mathias's The Pursuits of Literature (1794, 1797). On the rediscovery of Greek homoeroticism in the Romantic priod, particularly by Byron, see Louis Crompton, Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th Century England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), esp. 141-2, where he notes Byron's celebration of the Greek homosexual lovers, Aristogiton and Harmodius in Childe Harold (stanza 20, Canto III). See also Crompton's discussion of Bentham's invocation of ancient Greece in his justification of homosexual toleration, 45-53.

[26]

This process of exposing a universalized category of "sex" in relation to which homosexual sex operates metonymically (and methodologically, in new-historicist terms, homologically) as an exemplary but nonetheless closetted instance, occurs in Foucault's History of Sexuality . For Sedgwick's magisterial account of precisely this process in Foucault, see "Gender Criticism," Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies , ed. Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn (New York: MLA, 1992). I would add, in the context of my own argument, that Foucault's text thereby offers an allegory or historical extension of this materialist Enlightenment project of "revealing" and demystifying a universalized sex, of "writing as a form of sex" (Sedgwick in Greenblatt, 280)—a Sadean practice—and of "view[ing] sexuality as the central repository of truth-values of modernity" (280). How Foucault - and Lewis - depart from this Enlightenment project is in their refusal to confess, a refusal to open homosexual practice upto the spectacularizing gaze of the confessional state; in this way, the refusal to confess is an act of resistance.

[27]

This is an obvious point, but one which needs restating, I think, particularly if we are to understand the text as something more than a confused and compromised Jacobin text, or—from the other extreme—as a Hobbesian aristocratic denunciation of Revolution, as Daniel Watkins has argued in "Social Hierarchy in Matthew Lewis's The Monk ," Studies in the Novel 18 (1986): 115-124.

[28]

As Theo van der Meer points out, in Amsterdam after 1795 men accused of soliciting, who had previously been discharged provisionally, were put on trial, sometimes tortured, and often condemned despite denying the crime. See Theo van der Meer, "The Persecutions of Sodomites in Eighteenth-Century Amsterdam," Male Homosexuality in Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe , ed. Kent Gerard and Gert Hekma (New York: Harrington Park Press, 1989) 263-307.

[29]

See Wijnand W. Mijnhardt, "Politics and Pornography in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Dutch Republic," in Hunt, The Invention of Pornography 295.

[30]

A letter from Lewis to his mother written in The Hague of Nov. 22 1794 says "I expect to be in Devonshire-place, within three weels at the latest" [Baron-Wilson, Life I 138]. See Arthur N. Gilbert, "Buggery and the British Navy, 1700-1861," Journal of Social History 10 (1976): 72-98, and "Sexual Deviance and Disaster During the Napoleonic Wars," Albion 9 (1977): 98-113. As Gilbert shows, buggery was a capital offence until 1861.

[31]

Louis Crompton, Byron and Greek Love 60-1. See also Alan Bray, Homosexuality in Renaissance England (London: Gay Men's Press, 1988) 75.

[32]

Whilst James I is more notable on account of his homosexuality, and whilst he was raised a Protestant, he was still tainted with the stigma of popishness by being the son of Mary Queen of Scots, and associated with the threat to the reformed religion by his desire for a union with Rome (in his first speech to Parliament he declared "I acknowledge the Roman church to be our mother church", quoted in Early Stuarts 205), and his leniency with Catholics which resulted in the Gunpowder plot, a plot on the part of disgruntled Catholics to blow up the houses of parliament and seize power from the Protestants in the confusion. See Christopher Hill, People and Ideas in the Seventeenth Century (Sussex: Harvester, 1987) 34.

[33]

On Catholicism as "outlandish", see Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992) 23.

[34]

For antiquarian and recusant histories of these hides, see Granville Squiers, Secret Hiding-Places (London: Stanley Paul & Co., 1934), and the series of articles by Michael Hodgetts in Recusant History :, especially "Elizabethan Priest-Holes: I-Dating and Chronology," Recusant History II (1971-2): 279-98.

[35]

Sedgwick, Between Men 91.

[36]

Conor Cruise O'Brien has perhaps argued the most persuasively and movingly for both the sincerity and difficulty of Burke's position as a Catholic "sympathizer"and the constant suspicion, disapprobation and abuse that he attracted throughout his career on account of this "sympathy". See Conor Cruise O'Brien, The Great Melody: A Thematic Biography and Commented Anthology of Edmund Burke (London: Sinclair Stevenson, 1993).

[37]

Iain McCalman, "Mad Lord George and Madame La Motte: Riot and Sexuality in the Genesis of Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France ," Journal of British Studies 35 (1996) 346ff.

[38]

See Crompton, Byron and Greek Love 31ff.; see also Burke's letter to Alexander Wedderburn of 16 April 1780, and to Samuel Bourn of 9 May 1781, in The Correspondence of Edmund Burke , ed. John A. Woods, 9 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963) IV, 230-1; IV, 350-351; see also V.A.C. Gatrell, The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) 69-70.

[39]

Most recently and notably in Gatrell, The Hanging Tree , 601ff, in a critique of the "scapegoat" of the crowd.

[40]

Burke is a highly significant figure in the evolution of the liberal category of the "sympathizer", that is in the development of the general moral category of "sympathy" elaborated by civic humanist moral philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, through to polite culture of sentiment and sensibility as a term within novelistic and pedagogical discourse, where it functioned to defuse class conflict, to an extremely useful and strategically important liberal category for political discourse and strategy.

[41]

As Lisa Wilson has suggested, in her astute examination of the shifting authorial personae of Lewis as "The Monk" in the context of a burgeoning spectacularizing culture of authorship as celebrity, a useful historiographical question for the project of historicizing homosexuality hinges not on evidence of physical relations with men, but on a performative mode of homosexuality, which involves cultural agreement about the markers of homosexuality. Developing the argument in Andrew Elfenbein's "Byronism and the Work of Homosexual Performance in Early Victorian England," Modern Language Quarterly 54 (1993): 535-566, Wilson argues in a forthcoming essay, "The (Round) Character of the Romantic Author: 'Monk' Lewis and The Monk ," that this performativity constituted by "the open secret of Lewis's homosexuality functioned ambiguously as a kind of positive symbolic capital."

[42]

From 1796 to 1802 Lewis represented Hindon, Wilts, succeeding William Beckford; see Summers, Gothic Quest , 252. On October 1784, Beckford was accused of sexual relations with the sixteen-year-old William Courtenay (known as "Kitty" Courtenay), while on a visit to Powderham Castle, and went into exile from late 1784. See Crompton, Byron and Greek Love 119ff.

[43]

The passage continues, "your privileges seal you off from other people, but by the same token they constitute a protective wall through which you cannot see, and behind which therefore all kinds of envious forces may be imagined, in the process of plotting, preparing to give assault" [Fredric Jameson, "Nostalgia for the Present," Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991) 289].

Auteur : Clara Tuite
Titre : Cloistered Closets: Enlightenment Pornography, The Confessional State, Homosexual Persecution and The Monk
Revue : Romanticism on the Net, Numéro 8, novembre 1997
URI : http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/005766ar
DOI : 10.7202/005766ar

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