Brewer argues that the feudal society presented in Matthew Lewis‘s The Monk (1796) is destabilised by reversals in gender roles. The disruptive power of Matilda, the protagonists chief tempter, derives from her unsettling ability to take on both masculine and feminine identities in her relationship with Ambrosio and even to become androgynous. Although Matilda‘s transgendering does not seriously undermine the prevailing social hierarchies, it does expose the arbitrary and contingent nature of gender identity. And while Matilda‘s repudiation of established value systems and her affirmation of the joys of sensual gratification are unlikely to become public policy in a partriarchal society, her critiques, both implicit and explicit, of the restrictions of prescribed gender roles and the mental limitations caused by faulty and incomplete educations cannot be easily dismissed.

Gothic Studies