Compare and contrast doubling in The Monk and Dracula with emphasis on how notions of the Gothic have been articulated, developed and/or rewritten over time.

Olly Hunt

Written at the ends of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries respecitvely, The Monk and Dracula exemplify the use of doubling in Gothic literature. In this essay, style and plot are considered alongside the double nature of characters that is central to Gothic fiction and the overarching 'doubleness' of the novels' themes.


As a genre, Gothic literature has a very definitive style. Arguably one of the genre’s key aspects is ‘doubling’, which pairs and clashes the familiar with the ‘other’, suggesting fragility in what is normally supposed fixed. Although doubling often refers to duality within a single character, it can also be seen in other aspects of a Gothic text that embody change, diametric oppositions which break down, and the resulting threats to assumption. Written just over a century apart, both Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) also appeared on the cusp of new eras, offering copious instances of doubling which embodied the apprehension of their respective times. The Monk exemplifies doubling through Ambrosio’s metamorphosis from pure to degenerate. To illustrate this fall, while expressing concerns about unchecked religious power, Lewis doubles the novel’s style and plot. In addition, The Monk explores the balance between order and revolution, as well as the apparent need for patriarchy to resolve feminine threats. In Dracula, doubling is largely based around the clash between rational and irrational, with the need for reason – embodied by Van Helsing – to fight Dracula’s chaotic world. Through this opposition, Dracula conflicts modern science and old superstition, as well as gender roles and power dynamics through sexuality, suggesting as The Monk does that these are subject to shifts. Further doubling can be seen in the cultural crossover between Transylvania and England, with the sense that Harker can be seen as yet another double for the Count. Overall, both texts ostensibly adopt doubling as a key tool in exploring their themes, as well as pushing the genre’s boundaries and developing characteristic Gothic techniques.

As central to the narrative of The Monk, a conspicuous aspect of doubling is apparent in Ambrosio’s split self: that of saint-like religious leader, against rapist and murderer. As the transformation progresses, Ambrosio’s ‘good’ side seemingly loses self-control: “Ambrosio no longer possessed himself” (Lewis 2008: 262) / “He abandoned his soul to the tortures of unavailing remorse” (305). Although glimpses of the former monk can be seen during his nefarious acts, the reader is confronted by the idea that the momentum of change is irreversible once Ambrosio’s ‘evil’ side is released. This character doubling shows a technique which defined later Gothic texts such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), where the potential of good and evil inherent in everyone suggested a deep instability between public image and reality: “At that time my virtue slumbered; my evil, kept awake by ambition, was alert and swift to seize the occasion” (Stevenson 2002: 59). In The Monk, this split could be seen as the result of emotional repression; Robert Miles argues that Ambrosio is “governed by the desire for novelty” which becomes “a demonic impulse in which the gratification of desire is perpetually deferred” (1993: 164). The need to maintain such an immaculate public image suggests a repression which morphs novelty into brutality, arguably making Ambrosio a result rather than a cause. Indeed, in the mirror scene with Matilda (270-271), the voyeuristic gaze on Antonia shows Ambrosio’s emotional immaturity, who as Miles suggests, “does not see Antonia as she is, but as he imagines her, an imagination conditioned by textuality” (1993: 165). The doubling of Ambrosio gives light to issues of emotional and spiritual repression that shocked many of Lewis’s contemporaries, suggesting that the failings of absolute religious control in his fictional Madrid could be transferred to a home setting. The Monk pioneered, in this respect with Catholicism, themes which would define subsequent generations of literary texts.

Further doubling comes in the novel’s style and its plot which continually switches between Ambrosio’s moral deterioration and the quests of the ‘good’ individuals. Considering the plot, Wendy Jones suggests a pattern at the interception points of the primary narratives, where “Ambrosio’s wishes are always gratified, while those of the good characters are continually blocked” (1990: 135). This arguably demonstrates Ambrosio’s power before his fall, highlighting the eventual shift between his fortunes and those of the others. In terms of style, although an attuned modern reader may see a multitude of influences in The Monk, a defined opposition is evident between the two popular genres of the time. What first appears Romantic gradually develops into Gothic horror, through techniques such as suspense; phrases such as “He waited with impatience for the approach of midnight” (279) give what now seem classic Gothic ‘cliff-hanger’ moments. The novel’s social themes can be read through this opposition between the two styles; indeed, Robert Hume argues of the two genres: “In its highest forms romantic writing claims the existence of higher answers where Gothic can find only unresolvable moral and emotional ambiguity” (1969: 290). If this view is to be taken with The Monk, the merge of style towards the end deeply influences the reader’s perception of character development. Though ambiguity surrounds Ambrosio’s descent into hell, Lucifer’s scathing rhetoric shows an attack on Catholic absolution, as well as uncannily doubling Agnes’s earlier prayers in the crypt: “Would you feign penitence, and again act an Hypocrite’s part? Villain, resign your hopes of pardon.” (441). Hence, the novel’s ending leaves a lingering sense of unease at the same time as the narrative is ostensibly resolved, suggesting that comfortable endings after such events are an untenable fallacy.

Doubling can also be seen in the juxtaposition of order with revolution, with the sense that small chains of events can easily overturn the status quo. A ubiquitous tension of revolt from Madrid’s masses builds up throughout the text, boiling over as religious order breaks down:

The incensed Populace, confounding the innocent with the guilty, had resolved to sacrifice all the Nuns of that order to their rage, and not to leave one stone of the building upon another (356-357).

Parallels can naturally be drawn between the riots in The Monk and the French Revolution, whose momentum and sense of liberty defined the age, catching the excitement of many of Lewis’s contemporaries. However, The Monk seemingly inhabits a middle-ground, seeing both the benefits and potential flaws to insurrection: “Lewis exploits the dramatic resonances of the Revolution and its anti-clericalism, but simultaneously portrays the rioting mob as blood-thirsty, completely out of control” (Paulson 1981: 536). If the riots are viewed in this light, then the concern of the authorities to contain and limit repercussions fits in well with the tension between order and revolution: “Don Ramirez took care, that the populace should remain ignorant both of the crimes and profession of the Captives. He feared a repetition of the riots” (394). It seems that in after such a catastrophe, societies seeking closure must make sure the Gothic ‘monster’ is hidden in order for the status quo to re-establish itself. Thus, Lewis suggests that the barrier between order and chaos is in constant danger of collapse, as any such resolution have the inherent potential of the return of chaos, should such a monster be released again.

Finally, the doubling of a ‘good’ form of patriarchy against corrupt women arguably shows an engagement with the emerging Gothic tradition of masculine reason eradicating the threat of the often feminine ‘other’. As will later be seen in Dracula, Lewis suggests the need for a hierarchy based on an upright model of masculinity; hence Emma McEvoy argues that there is a “supposedly benevolent paternalism” where good men are needed to “right the wrongs caused by the seizure of power by unruly elements—mobs and women” (1995: xvi). Though Ambrosio remains the novel’s principal offender, Matilda and the Prioress commit equally shocking acts. While Matilda initially corrupts Ambrosio and facilitates his debauchery, the Prioress’s treatment of Agnes, which leads to the horrendous death of her baby (412-413), represents the hidden side of Catholic abuse. The public massacre of the Prioress’s body, being torn apart “till it became no more than a mass of flesh, unsightly, shapeless, and disgusting” (356) acts as an extrapolated spatial double to her private torture of Agnes. Indeed, critics have argued the crowd’s actions are a case of “justification followed by horrible excess” (Paulson 1981: 534). However, Matilda’s death arguably leaves a more disturbing precedent: “To Matilda it was announced, that She must expiate her crime in fire on the approaching Auto da Fé” (424-425). Links can thus be seen with the brutal treatment of ‘witches’ throughout the centuries. The Inquisition’s patriarchal system leaves an uncomfortable open ending that can either be seen as justice using appropriate means, or the swift destruction of a radical other that threatens the Catholic status quo.

When considering Dracula, one of the most striking elements of doubling is arguably the inherent reason of the ‘good’ characters against Dracula’s irrational and primal world. Ostensibly acting as Dracula’s intellectual nemesis, Van Helsing epitomises the peak of rationality, with his wisdom directing the other characters through logical waypoints. Statements such as “I shall cut off her head and fill her mouth with garlic, and I shall drive a stake through her body” (Stoker 2000: 167) suggest that Van Helsing is entirely focussed on what is rational and pragmatic in any given situation. Conversely, Dracula seems more attuned with the wild animals he communes with and shape-shifts into, as well as the mentally-unhinged Renfield, whose primal episodes mirror Dracula’s, as seen in his attack on Seward: “Suddenly the door was burst open, and in rushed my patient, with his face distorted with passion [...]. He was too quick and too strong for me” (117). The sense of unexplainable, almost supernatural control over Renfield’s actions is doubled against Seward and Van Helsing’s methods to maintain the status quo through reason. However, irrational doubling in the novel arguably extends beyond the boundaries of the text itself; indeed, the 1897 Daily Mail review of the novel implies that it is easy for readers to get drawn into the theatricality of Gothic literature: “Persons of small courage and weak nerves should confine their reading of these gruesome pages strictly to the hours between dawn and sunset” (Anon 1897: 364). Thus the irrational side of Dracula fights against a reader’s good sense, while its uncanny nature facilitates the appeal of the Gothic genre.

As an extension of this doubling, there is also a dichotomy between science and superstition in Dracula. As in previous vampire texts such as Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872), where Baron Vordenburg’s knowledge becomes vital to eradicating the otherworldly but distinctively female threat, Dracula becomes centred on the accumulation and usage of knowledge against the Count’s otherness. The incessant focus on recording every detail by the principal ‘good’ characters, along with the scientific method of Seward and Van Helsing thus become tools against Dracula: “Since understanding Dracula is a necessary precondition to defeating him, the exchange and accumulation of information literally is resistance to him” (Seed 1985: 73). This gathering of intellectual antidote changes certain dynamics within the novel: Mina transforms from a ‘stock’ doting wife to a vital component in the eradication of Dracula, while her secretarial skills bind the group together by organising the information. However, the ostensibly separate worlds of rational and irrational in the novel become uncannily intertwined through the penetrating acts of the two opposing leaders, along with the symbolism of blood, as Christopher Craft suggests:

Van Helsing’s doubled penetrations, first the morphine injection that immobilizes the woman and then the infusion of masculine fluid, repeat Dracula’s spatially doubled penetrations of Lucy’s neck. And that morphine injection, which subdues the woman and improves her receptivity, curiously imitates the Count’s strange hypnotic power (1984: 126).

Blood and the manipulation of the body through Western medicine thus represent fighting points against corruption by foreignness and vampirism. The doubling of science and superstition in Dracula therefore gives insight into the numerous forces invading the security of ‘home’, which like The Monk highlights fears on the cusp of change at the end of a century.

Doubling in Dracula also focuses on gender, featuring clear differences between the sexes, with power fluctuations that shift these balances. Masculine supremacy shapes much of the action, with ‘alpha male’ status altering between the principal male characters. In Dracula’s castle, Jonathan Harker is noticeably inferior and powerless against his host: “I knew that to struggle at the moment against the Count was useless [...]. ‘Shut the door; I shall wait till morning!’” (43). Taking such into account, Tanya Gardiner-Scott suggests that Harker is feminised as a prisoner, while “[t]he vaults of Dracula’s architectural emblem of masculine power and female mystery are in a direct line of descent from those of Lewis’s convents” (1997: 51). Linking the novels in this way seems apt in terms of doubling, as Dracula’s ‘detainer’ and ‘detainee’ relationship furthers The Monk in terms of sexuality: while Ambrosio restrains the female Antonia to fulfil sexual gratification, Dracula fights the desire to penetrate Harker’s male body. Ostensibly, homoeroticism can be read throughout the text: “Dracula’s ungratified desire to vamp Harker is fulfilled instead by his three vampire daughters [who] offer Harker a feminine form but a masculine penetration” (Craft 1984: 110). Sexuality and dominance in Dracula suggest that accepted sexual practices are constructs, ready to be challenged. Indeed, the zenith of Dracula’s power can arguably be seen in “his ability to catalyze the awesome changes potential in womanhood, in those modest personifications of divine and human truth” (Auerbach 1996: 28). As such, the doubling shown through gender and sexuality in Dracula reveals the instability of supposedly fixed hierarchies.

Finally, doubling can be seen in racial oppositions throughout the narrative, with Jonathan Harker acting as Dracula’s cultural double. Harker’s Victorian ‘Englishness’ and relentless need to document every foreign detail, with every conversation captured word-perfectly, emphasise Dracula’s peculiar and otherworldly nature: “[...] more like the hand of a dead man than a living man” (15) / “a horrible feeling of nausea came over me” (17). Such statements give unprecedented bias against Dracula, especially as the reader first sees Dracula exclusively through Harker’s eyes. As the narrative progresses, Dracula is ‘othered’ against numerous aspects of English culture, almost as a projection of everything feared and undesirable; Richard Coe furthers this argument, suggesting that Dracula is:

[A] particularly patriarchal monster, a rapist, invented by a male imagination. Many of his worst qualities seem to result from psycho-social projection [...]. Dracula wants to conquer and control (1986: 232).

As Dracula becomes frustrated by the threat to his colonial expanse, his language mirrors imperialist Western-European attitudes: “Your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you and others shall yet be mine” (255). A Marxist reading might suggest that Dracula is expressing the same sentiments of capital acquisition that Britain had been adopting for centuries. Indeed, following many European revolutions and the rise of a unified Germany in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Stoker’s readers would have been aware of the threats to established hegemonies. Thus, the doubling of home and the foreign ‘other’ allows Stoker to textually invade Britain with all of the horrors and concerns of the age.

To conclude, The Monk and Dracula exemplify the use of doubling in Gothic literature, bringing together and exploring a myriad of contextual concerns. In The Monk, Ambrosio’s split self suggests the potential dangers of religious repression, while doubling in the plot gives scope for Lewis to stretch emerging Gothic techniques. Further doubling between order and revolution, as well as the idea of ‘good’ patriarchy against degenerate women, act as worrying undercurrents which are arguably not fully satisfied by the end of the narrative. In Dracula, many of the same potentials are shown a century later through different contexts, suggesting that society’s fears are often recurrent, particularly at moments of ‘fin de siècle’ apprehension. The good characters’ rationality is doubled against Dracula’s irrational world, giving the impression of a fight to maintain order in the face of overwhelming threat by the ‘other’. Taking key features of Victorian identity, science and knowledge are used against foreign superstition; however, as with gender in the novel, Stoker gives uncanny crossover points which destabilise reader assumptions. In addition the cultural doubling, primarily between Harker and the Count, suggests that Dracula’s invasion adopts the same colonial language and attitude that Victorian society simultaneously feared, but inflicted on the rest of the world. In essence, while The Monk explores projected doubled issues in a foreign land, Dracula ostensibly evolves the Gothic genre, showing the ‘other’ directly attacking England, and most importantly English blood.

Word Count: 2,736


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Olly Hunt


brightONLINE student literary journal

06 Oct 2011