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Matthew Lewis & William Kelly

Matthew Lewis's scandalous masterpiece, The Monk, is one of the great works in the gay and lesbian literary tradition. (P: ©Henry William Pickersgill (1782-1875)/NPG 421. Matthew Gregory Lewis, 1876 (©4))

Matthew "Monk" Lewis was born to a fairly prosperous family of some distinction. His father, who deeply loved his son, was England's Deputy Secretary at War; and his mother, also deeply loving, was literary, musical, and in all things encouraging to her son. Lewis's parents divorced when the boy was six years old, and throughout his life he acted as emissary between them.

He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, and after leaving university, at eighteen, he went to The Hague to pursue a diplomatic career, at the same time convinced that he had a future as a writer. During his six months in The Hague, he composed his scandalous masterpiece The Monk (1795), which earned him the nickname that lasted until his death.

After that "succès de scandale," Lewis was appointed to Parliament, and he served as a member of the House of Commons from 1796 to 1802. As a member of Parliament, he received special censure for his novel, but his heart was not in politics, and he spent most of the time after the publication of The Monk working on other literary products, one of which, The Castle Spectre (1797), was a huge success on the stage.

Chief among his attachments was his love for William Kelly, the ne'er-do-well son of Mrs. Kelly, an author with whom he corresponded, and to whom he offered various kinds of financial aid, among them the cost of educating her son. Lewis was involved with William for fifteen years, and though there is no proof of sexual involvement, Lewis did include the younger man in his will and speak of him always in affectionate, if frustrated terms.

The question of Lewis's "homosexuality" has been debated by his biographers, such as Summers and Peck, but surely they have been asking the wrong questions. That Lewis was of an unconventional sexual makeup is clear in his life as well as his works.

But whether or not anything about Lewis's own sexual behavior can be proved, The Monk is one of the great works in the gay and lesbian literary tradition. It is the story of frustrated desire expressed, at first anyway, as male-male love. Ambrosio, the hero of the novel, is a handsome monk above reproach in his private affairs. Then suddenly he finds himself involved with the emotions of a young (male) novice, whom he befriends and who becomes more and more tormenting to his solace.

Citation Information
Author: Haggerty, George E.
Entry Title: Lewis, Matthew G.
General Editor: Claude J. Summers
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2002
Date Last Updated November 12, 2002
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/lewis_mg.html
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date May 14, 2013
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates

Further Readings:

Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1500563323
ISBN-13: 978-1500563325
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time

Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher


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Tags: author: matthew lewis, days of love
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