The Monk’s voracious libidinousness hence implicitly unveils his emergent relationship with the Devil, as well as Satan’s methodical control over him: “She twined her arms voluptuously round him, drew him towards her, and glewed her lips to his. Ambrosio again raged with desire…No longer oppressed by his sense of shame, He gave a loose to his intemperate desires” (224). While Matilda’s sexuality invokes the Monk’s repressed desires, the tableau underscores the concomitance between the power of his passions and his inevitable downfall. Utilizing Gayle Rubin’s argument that “patriarchal heterosexuality can best be discussed in terms of one or another form of the traffic of women,” Sedgwick avers that women are used as “exchangeable, perhaps symbolic, property, for the primary purpose of cementing the bonds of men with men” (25-6). Therefore, Ambrosio’s ruination, though initiated by Matilda’s fervid advances, unifies the Monk with Lucifer—revealing the erotic triangle, proposed by Sedgwick, among others, which functions as “a sensitive register precisely for delineating relationships of power and meaning” (27). Matilda hence serves as a node for Ambrosio’s heteronormative impulses and the compulsory juxtaposition of these desires to his homosociality, whereby Satan can exercise his power.
The sporadic inversion of Matilda and Ambrosio’s “feminine”
and “masculine” roles, moreover, perpetuates the Monk’s identification
with fiendish pleasures, thus transforming his sense of empowerment
into Satan’s mastery over him. Once “the mildest and softest of her
sex,” Matilda now “assumed a sort of courage and manliness in her
manners and discourse…She spoke no longer to insinuate, but command:
He found himself unable to cope with her argument, and was willingly
obliged to confess the superiority of her judgment” (231-2). With
Matilda’s transformation and the Monk’s enervated position within
their heterosexual affair, Lewis implicitly revives
The Monk retired to his Cell, whither He was pursued by Antonia’s image…what He now felt was a mingled sentiment of tenderness, admiration, and respect…Society now disgusted him: He delighted in solitude, which permitted his indulging in the visions of Fancy: His thoughts were all gentle, sad, and soothing, and the whole wide world presented him with no other object than Antonia. (242)
As another Madonna figure, Antonia becomes an object of both sexuality and conquest on which Ambrosio must impose his heteroerotic desires in order to legitimize his homosocial relationship with Matilda. For Kristeva, the iconography of the Madonna engenders a “style of representation that shifted from human figures to austere idealization with no gap or separation between the two” (251 original italics). The Monk’s religious fidelity is therefore transposed into his lewd desires for Antonia—a romanticized conversion, which both perpetuates and speciously vindicates his flagrant transgressions: “The innocent familiarity with which She treated him, encouraged his desires: Grown used to her modesty, it no longer commanded the same respect and awe…it only made him more anxious to deprive her of that quality, which formed her principal charm” (256). Now that he believes Matilda “apes the Harlot, and glories in her prostitution” (243), her semiotic influences as the wanton woman have thus elicited and heightened Ambrosio’s flagrancy as the voyeur and imminent vanquisher of Antonia’s virtue and “excellent morals” (257).
However, while Matilda conveys a masculine presence vis-à-vis her “cruel and unfeminine” expressions (232), the scope of her sexual power is limited, and she must persuade Ambrosio to seduce and rape Antonia. In her explication of the schism in women’s status within male homosocial desire, Sedgwick maintains:
[W]omen are sometimes ‘free’ to act out the contradictions of their status …but…they will never achieve the cognitive leverage, the mastery of their whole range of choices, that [the protagonist’s] pseudofeminized masculinity allows him to achieve. (57)
Because he is situated and can circulate between the realms of homosociality and heterosexuality, Ambrosio can perform the desires of Matilda/Satan, thus elucidating Sedgwick’s contention that “men’s homosocial and heterosexual desires need not be opposites but may be entirely complicit” (57). Accordingly, in a manner presumably anticipating the Monk’s comportment, Matilda invokes a spirit of the underworld to inveigle Ambrosio vis-à-vis the bewitching sexuality of the young, male demon:
Enchanted at a vision so contrary to his expectations, Ambrosio gazed upon the Spirit with delight and wonder: Yet however beautiful the Figure, He could not but remark a wildness in the Dæmon’s eyes, and a mysterious melancholy impressed upon his features, betraying the Fallen Angel, and inspiring the Spectators with secret awe. (277)
Since “[t]ransgendering is threatening to Ambrosio in as much as it destabilizes his position in a society that privileges an abbot over a novice, a father over a son, and a man over a woman” (198), as William D. Brewer contends in “Transgendering in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk,” Ambrosio comes to faithfully observe Matilda’s semiotic direction once she has internalized and imposes a womanhood with masculine overtones. Thus, by “threatening [the spirit] with her vengeance” (277), Matilda/Satan can better forge the scope of her dominance and inculcate Ambrosio with a reverence for her power through her androgyny. Incensed by the spirit’s lack of fear and esteem for her, she, moreover, efficaciously transmutes the imp’s obedience to the Monk’s indiscriminate compliance to her schemes.