09 September 2010

Matilda Doesn't Want to Just Be Friends

Back in grad school, we used to play a game called "What should you have read by now but haven't?" Because we were people whose very lives depended on appearing extraordinarily well read, this game required copious amounts of alcohol.

Romeo and Juliet always scored big points, especially among the Renaissance crowd. Anything by Jane Austen would draw gasps. Someone would inevitably say Ulysses, which would lead to the equally inevitable conversation about how no one should read Ulysses, which in turn would lead to the even more inevitable conversation about how no one can read Ulysses.

My point is that now that I have time to read whatever I want, I've been going back through the list of things I should have read and never did, and picking up a few gems along the way.

One of these was The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis. This book was written in 1795. "Monk" Lewis was nineteen at the time - a very pervy, rather sophisticated nineteen. This book has everything - and I mean everything:

Corrupt monks!
Innocent virgins!
Devirginated innocents!
Drag kings!
Sadistic Mothers Superior!
Sexy seductresses!
Ghost nuns!
Evil nuns!
Dead moms!
Dank crypts!
Satan! Satan! Satan!
Magic books!
Magic spells!
Disaffected youth!

The plots of yesteryear really were a lot more jam-packed than we tend to like 'em today. The real highlight of this book (besides the jaw-dropping and hilarious ending) is Matilda. Arguably the main female character, Matilda is perverse, passionate, vengeful, and just wonderfully wrong on so many levels. Lewis gives her a series of motivations that seem a bit random and nutty, but then - by pulling out a single thread that has been working through the plot all along - makes it all make sense.

We need more plots - and more women - like this in novels today. I wonder if modern audiences would accept them?