Gothic Project #5, Wednesday, Dec 6

"Homoeroticism in The Monk and Christabel"
(Elizabeth, Monelle, Annemarie, Tara)

The Monk

In Between Men Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick presents an idea of the "Male homosocial continuum", which is outlined on our poster. In analysing the relationship between Ambrosio and Rosario, it is evident that the two share a "social bond"; yet whether or not this bond is evidence of desire is uncertain. Kosofsky Sedgwick also describes points of 'radical disruption', which in The Monk appear to result from the heterosexist framework to which we are introduced on the very first page, through Lewis' statement: "The Men came to see the Women". The homosocial relationship between Ambrosio and Rosario is disrupted by "the ambient heterosexist culture" (Kosofsky Sedgwick Epistemology of the Closet 46) that is physically manifested in Matilda.

Ambiguity remains, however, concerning the author's intent. Lewis initiates a homosocial bond between Ambrosio and Rosario; he easily could have circumvented any notion of homoeroticism in the novel. He chose not to, but then chose to 'heterosexualise' the novel through revealing Rosario to be a woman. We would like to raise the question -- why did Lewis portray Ambrosio and Rosario in this way?

The historical context for "Christabel" - its production, reception, and how that relates to homosexual or ambiguous sexuality.

This poem, (composed in 1798 and published in 1816), sparked 7 verse parodies and 15 continuations in the years before 1909.

What the parodies do to the figure of Geraldine is of particular interest. There are many answers to who and what she is. Some, following the conventions of Gothic romance suggest a "fairy tale" resolution which re-establishes the hetero-sexual order (Christabel marries her far away lover) and the supernatural and mysterious Geraldine is expelled.

In 1819 David Moir wrote "Christabel, Part Third". In this, he uses the mundane to decrease the Gothic elements, but he increases the sexual content. For him, however, Geraldine turns out to be a man, and impregnates Christabel. Many of the interpretations of the relationship between Geraldine and Christabel work to remove any mystery or ambiguity.

The anonymous poem Christabess, from 1816, increases the amount of sexual content in the poem, but this version subverts the expected heterosexual encounter and leaves Geraldine a woman. There however, is still ambiguity as to their relationship. There are quotes from the parodies and Coleridge himself on the poster which reveal the uncertainty of the relationship between the women and the conflicting interpretations of the writers.

Coleridge himself imposed drastic editorial changes. At the point in the poem where Christabel and Geraldine are going to bed, he altered the line in reference to Geraldine from "sleep with" to "sleep by" Christabel, and then crosses the line out all together. He replaces it with "O shield her! Shield sweet Christabel!" and therefore lessens the sexual threat, making the anxiety more ambiguous. Koenig-Woodyard sees the move as "a self-censorship in progress -- Coleridge silencing the potential sexuality of 'Christabel'." Hazlitt also felt that Coleridge was trying to hide, or silence aspects of the poem.

Coleridge wrote a very negative review of The Monk in 1797. He condemned the way the sins are detailed by Lewis with "libidinous minuteness". Certainly "Christabel" is far from explicit, but it is interesting how the two works raise many similar issues by what they conceal, or remain silent about.

In hiding elements, or leaving them more ambiguous, Coleridge offers more possible readings of his text. As Tim Fulford notes, "Coleridge often leaves masculine and feminine, men and women, in undetermined relationships, their gender and sexual identities uncertain and fluid".

Clara Tuite notes "As both Foucault and Sedgwick suggest, then, repression is not the elimination of sexuality but a mechanism for the production or elaboration of a specific form of sexuality". In the cases of both The Monk and "Christabel", the type of sexuality could be termed Gothic -- veiled, ambiguous, mysterious, and difficult to reduce or categorize.

Public/Private Distinction

Gothic literature creates a set of characters that have ideals and morals that oppose those of society at large, and this is part of what manifests the horror in Gothic literature. When this principle is applied to "Christabel", one discovers that clear "lip service" is being paid to societal expectations, and a very obviously different attitude in Christabel herself. This difference, between public and private appearances, is illustrated on our poster by the image of the standard 1810 heterosexual couple on the surface, but the underlying lesbian couple behind/beneath. Attached to these images are the words and actions of Christabel, which relate to each image. The ribbon being untied is symbolic of the undressing of Geraldine and Christabel to fulfil their own values and principles.


Butler, Judith, "Imitation and Gender Insubordination" and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men in Literary Theory: An Anthology, Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, Eds. Massachusetts; Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1998.

"Coleridge's Gothic Readings." Gothic Literature: What the Romantic Writers Read

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. "Review of Matthew G. Lewis, The Monk, The Critical Review, February, 1797, pp. 194-200." Romantic Links, Electronic Texts and Home Pages.

Fulford, Tim. "Mary Robinson and the Abyssinian Maid: Coleridge's Muses and Feminist Criticism." Romanticism On the Net 13 (February 1999)

Koenig-Woodyard, Chris. "sex-text: 'Christabel' and the Christabelliads." Romanticism On the Net 15 (August 1999)

Kosofsky Sedgwick, Eve. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990.

Lewis, Matthew. The Monk. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Return to Gothic course

Document prepared December 16th 2000