The year 1996 marked the two hundredth anniversary of the first publication of Matthew Gregory "Monk" Lewis's Gothic supershocker, The Monk, certainly not a major literary landmark but an important date, nonetheless, for students of the Gothic novel. Although the bicentenary of the novel's publication did not attract much notice within the scholarly community, the novel's birth was celebrated by a series of papers delivered in two panels devoted to The Monk at the annual meeting of the Midwestern American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies (MWASECS) convening in Indianapolis in October 1996. Additionally, The Monk's permanent and important place in the Gothic pantheon received further recognition in many of the papers delivered at the biannual conference of the International Gothic Association (IGA) which met in July 1997 at Walpole's restored Gothic villa, Strawberry Hill, United Kingdom.
The essayists for this special number of Romanticism on the Net approach Lewis's Gothic text from a variety of perspectives, opening or reopening some probing questions concerning the novel's historical endurance, popular success, and centrality as a major and seminal paradigm of high Gothicism. Such themes as The Monk as pornographic ritual as explored by Clara Tuite, the role of simulacra or counterfeiting in the novel as studied by Jerrold Hogle, the novel's overt and covert nationalism as discussed by Marie-José Tienhooven, the religious and anti-religious impulse of The Monk in Lewis's presentation of confession and confessors as investigated by Syndy Conger, the often overlooked comic and satiric elements of the novel as identified by Ann Campbell, The Monk's equivocal and ambiguous relationship to the anarchist politics of the 1790s, especially the volatile values of the French Revolution, as explained by James Whitlark, and the subtle presence of Monk Lewis himself in the characters and events of the novel as explicated by Lisa Wilson are among the topics and issues posed by the essayists. By the vigor and freshness of their inquiry, the essayists make a significant contribution to the already large and continuously expanding body of criticism on The Monk.