14 November 2012

Matthew 'Monk' Lewis: 'The Isle of Devils'

Matthew Gregory Lewis (1775–1818) was a novelist and dramatist frequently named 'Monk' Lewis as a result of his highly popular gothic novel The Monk (1796), which he wrote before he was twenty and which took him just ten weeks. Benita Eisner states that Byron called Lewis 'a good man, a clever man, but a bore [socially]', and that Hobhouse also called him (again socially) 'an egotistical bore'.*

However, it's the name 'Irza' mentioned in the post below that continues to interest me, which is the name of the protagonist in Lewis's extraordinary twenty-page poem 'The Isle of Devils', which was published posthumously in Journal of a West India Proprietor (1834), which takes place on an unnamed island off the African coast and concerns, among many other things, the rape of Irza in her sleep by a demon and the subsequent birth of a monster.

'The Isle of Devils' has an epigraph from Shakespeare's The Tempest. Could it be that Lionel Britton's maternal grandmother Marie-Antoinette Thomas read this poem and foresaw that her daughter would give birth to a Caliban? No, of course not.

* Benita Eisler, Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Time (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1999), pp. 530 and 579.

There doesn't seem to be a copy of the poem online, but the link to this scholarly article in Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, May 2008, is really interesting.

'Monk' Lewis' 'The Isle of Devils' and the Perils of Colonialism, by Lisa Nevárez

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