This article considers the allusions to classical statuary in Matthew G. Lewis’s
novel The Monk (1796) and his Journal of a West India
Proprietor Kept during a Residence in the Island of Jamaica (1816).
Drawing on John Barrell’s account of civic discourse on the fine arts after
Shaftesbury, I explain and contextualise the centrality of the Venus de’ Medici
statue to Lewis’s representations of male desire and male virtue. Images of
Venus, both in The Monk and in the Journal,
function as tests of civic virtue and articulate the conditions of Lewis’s
entitlement to hold and govern slaves in Jamaica. Lewis’s colonial inheritance
underpins the narratives of desire in The Monk, and inflects
his authorship more generally.