The Monk: Character Overview from the First Reading Assignment

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't finished the reading assignment, this may reveal something you haven't yet read!

Below are some character sketches written by people in the class. I've cut and pasted pieces from everyone's paragraphs. I've skipped attribution so as to keep this anonymous in the wider world, but I'll note that everything appearing below came from students in this semester's course.

I've tried to put this together quickly and have not checked every detail; if you notice something that you think is incorrect, please e-mail me and I will fix it right away:


Lewis creates a mysterious backstory about Ambrosio when he first enters the narrative. We are told he lived in "total seclusion from the world" and that he is "so strict an observer of chastity that he knows not in what consists the difference of man and woman" (Lewis 8). Our first impressions of Ambrosio then center around an idea of religious perfection. However, once we get insight into Ambrosio's internal thoughts, we see his character is not free from flaw. For example, Ambrosio states, "May I not be tempted from those paths which, till now, I have pursued without one moment's wandering? Am I not a man, whose nature is frail and prone to error?" (23). As the first two chapters pass, we see his thoughts of temptation increase with the presence of Matilda/Rosario, eventually giving in to his desires.

Father Ambrosio, whom the story is centered around, is a well- respected monk in Madrid. His gained respect is derived from his “no tolerance attitude”. He is all about his reputation.

Ambrosio is an eloquent priest who mesmerizes people with his sermons.

He’s first presented to the reader from an outside POV. From this perspective, we see him as a larger than life, holy, and stimulating force. He’s a masterful orator who manages to inspire both terror and exaltation in his audience. Later on, the reader gets access to Ambrosio’s own POV. Now we see that he isn’t as perfect as he seemed before. He has a very high opinion of himself. He’s also full of the same thoughts and desires as any other normal person. Of course he’s a monk, so when these desires are juxtaposed with his religion they come off as negative to both him and the reader. Of course they’re not negative, they’re natural and human, but the perspective is skewed by the religious atmosphere.

Ambrosio is so prideful of his position and duties that he turns in a pregnant nun even after she begs and pleads for mercy. After she curses him, he feels remorse. He knows he should have done more to help her. This is a fault of his. He has been secluded from people for so long that he is unable to take human faults into consideration when dealing with his people. This nun could have run away, and no one would have been the wiser. He is rigid in his stances on canon law and it shows through his lack of mercy on this poor nun.

Ambrosio carries his station as the Abbott of Capuchin with an extreme amount of hidden pride and he believes he is “superior to his fellow creatures” (Lewis 23) because of his perceived piety; he is ruthless in his execution of monastic rule.

Leonella is one character who is not impressed by Ambrosio; she states, “I did not like this same Ambrosio in the least; he has a look of severity about him that made me tremble head to foot[…] when he spoke about sinners, he seemed as if he was ready to eat them” (11).

In reality, Ambrosio is a vain, hypocritical individual who constantly praises himself for all his good deeds and believes himself to be superior to all others. "Religion can not boast Ambrosio's equal!" he tells himself. He looks down on everyone else with contempt. He is severe in his meting out of justice to those who disobey the rules of the church, and yet, at the same time he himself is not immune to temptation.


We are introduced to Rosario when he appears at Ambrosio's door with a basket of flowers. Rosario is first described as curious. As well "A youth that is owned by the monastery" (24). It is also noted that he is hateful of society and prefers to be in seclusion. His exact origins are not known by anyone other than him. We soon discover that he is fond of and admires Ambrosio, who later talks to him about living in seclusion for many years. During the conversations between Ambrosio and Rosario, we begin to learn more about them both. We discover that Rosario is somehow suffering internally but won't tell Ambrosio why. When Rosario finally tells him, it is revealed that Rosario is actually a girl named Matilda who ran away from a nearby village. She reveals she has feelings for Ambrosio and we start to see him deal with temptation.

Rosario, or Matilda is the most complex and confusing character, which is unusual as she has the most description and dialogue to work with. She is two people in one, and is introduced from the start as being particularly unusual, "A sort of mystery enveloped this youth, which rendered him at once an object of interest and curiosity" (25). Then we meet her, or him, which ever one would prefer, in the garden. Here, before she opens up to Ambrosio, she discusses the depths and limits of being human, and being cultured. In her speech on page 33, before he even comes out with the truth, is where we can learn a lot of intimate details about Rosario's intellect and his struggles with society. Then the truth comes out and the reader watches Rosario, or Matilda in a very emotional struggle with identity, relationships with society and culture, personal relationships, etc. Much can be learned about what this novel is set up to be through Matilda's struggle of identity in the first two chapters.

Matilda plays the role of the temptress, working her way into the monastery and charming the venerable Ambrosio. She was described as "golden hair, ... rosy lips, heavenly eyes, and majesty of countenance" (51). She also bears an uncanny resemblance to the portrait of Madonna which is hung in Ambrosio's quarters. She looks like the Madonna because she had the portrait painted to her likeness and made sure it found its way into the hands of Ambrosio. Matilda's obsession with Ambrosio has been well thought out and executed perfectly. She was actually crazy enough to get herself into the monestary and guarantee that Ambrosio would purchase this portrait of her. This level of planning takes lots of courage and lots of insanity, two things that Matilda does not lack. Ambrosio falls to Matilda's temptation while she is on her deathbed which she is on because she sacraficed herself by sucking venom out of Ambrosio's hand.


Antonia is the innocent niece of Leonella. Antonia's "skin, though fair, was not entirely without freckles; her eyes were not very large, nor their lashes particularly long; but then her lips were of the most rosy freshness; her fair and undulating hair, confined by a simple ribband, poured itself below her waist in a profusion of ringlets" (4). Lorenzo, who is to thank for the description of Antonia's features, is obviously smitten with her. We learn that "She has been brought up in an old castle in Murcia, with not other society than her mother's; who, God help her, has no more sense, good soul, than is necessary to carry her soup to her mouth" (4). Lewis continues to describe Antonia's physical features of her "blue eyes" and "a smile of inexpressible sweetness" (6). Antonia goes on to develop a crush on Ambrosio who is giving the speech at the church Antonia is attending with her aunt Leonella. There seems to be a future between Antonia and Ambrosio for the remainder of this novel with Lorenzo also being involved.

Antonia is a young girl of fifteen, with blue eyes and blonde hair who is in the care of abrasive Aunt Leonella, while in Madrid. She is both the granddaughter of a shoemaker and the Marquis de las Cisternas (who did not acknowledge his son's marriage to her mother). With the death of the Marquis, his steward stripped Antonia's mother's pension and leads to Antonia's presence in Madrid to try and have her uncle (the Marquis' youngest son) overturn this ruling. She is very innocent and naïve of the workings of the world as she has lived a very sheltered lifestyle, evident in her refusal to remove her veil inside the church. While at the church, she gains the attention of Don Lorenzo de Medina, who is quickly falling in love with the young maiden stating that: “But, without disputing about birth and titles, I must assure you that I never beheld a woman so intersting as Antonia... I should be a villain could I think of her on any other terms than marriage; and in truth she seems possessed of every quality requisite to make me happy in a wife-young, lovely, gentle, sensible-” (Lewis 12-13). Antonia, however, has developed a deep “crush” or perhaps “devotion” to the speaking of Ambrosio.

Antonia's Aunt Leonella is irritated by her "mauvaise honte" which means bashful and quiet. She doesn't speak up much just simply answers questions and can't even look into Lorenzo's eyes when she speaks. She is timid and impressionable according to Leonella.

Antonia is extremely modest, and appears pious. Based upon her description she fits the stereotypical victim role in the Gothic tradition. Antonia seems to embody how a woman is expected to act in the 18th century: reserved and without opinion, alive only to marry and please her husband.



Leonella offers so much comic relief in the opening scenes and serves as a foil for Antonia's character. Leonella is outspoken, brash, aged, unattractive, and somewhat abrasive; being described as "obstinate" and "brawny" with "red hair" (2) , while Antonia is sweet, timid, youthful, beautiful, and desired. Leonella's presence only emphasizes Antonia's good qualities and makes it difficult to conceive the two regularly interacting with one another. Leonella was hilarious in my opinion, especially in her misconstruing of Lorenzo's friend's intentions. Lorenzo's friend, d'Ossorio, was simply trying to distract the old woman so Lorenzo could talk to Antonia, and she believes he is trying to marry her, " Oh! Dear Segnor, press me no further: if you love me, I shall consider your obedience as a proof of your affection; you shall hear from me to-morrow, and so farewell" (11). Leonella's melodrama is so funny in this scene, because the young man is shocked she would even think he wanted her. The confusion between the two, while Lorenzo is stifling his laughter was perfect. I didn't expect intentional humor in a gothic novel, and was pleasantly surprised.

She is a complaining woman, who always has something to say about everything. One of the scenes that displays what others think of her is when she enters the church with her neice, Antonia. She complains about the heat and not having a seat, which attracts the attention of the cavaliers, Lorenzo and Christoval, who see her red hair and her squinted eyes. After seeing this, "The cavaliers turned round, and renewed their conversation"(12). This shows that they had no pity for her, and also reveals that Leonella has an annoying type personality.