Although it cannot be argued that literature often has the power to transform social order, works that challenge traditions act as a symbol and a basis of defiance. Two of such works, "The Monk" by M.G. Lewis and "Lamia" by John Keats - with Lewis explicitly questioning the church's dominion over moral order and Keats's implicit sympathy and ambivalence towards 'evil' and immorality - were able to bring to the forefront the issue of religious control over human emotions. Lewis' inversion and subversion of the traditional roles of religion and sex in 'The Monk', and Keats's ambiguity on his treatment of evil in 'Lamia' both show that religion cannot defy human emotions such as love and sexuality.
The blatant sexuality depicted in Lewis' 'Monk' had stirred controversy from its inception in 1796 until this day. This was the consequence of Lewis' thesis that the Catholic Church, with its repression of sexuality and control of sexual conduct had produced more deviant sexual behaviors (Blakemore 521). Sexual aberrations, both depicted by the masses, the sovereigns and the aristocrats and the church's 'celibates', sprang forth from the church's 'unnatural' prescription of celibacy and stringent sexual conduct which, for the liberals of Lewis' time, violate human nature (Blakemore 521-522). Peter Brooks asserts that the depiction of 'The Monk' as a form of rebellion against church authorities as well as its religio-philosophical significance is "one of the first and most lucid contextualizations of life in a world where reason has lost its prestige" (Brooks 249).
The defiance of "The Monk" against the Catholic clergy is clearly illustrated through its protagonist, Ambrosio who is revered for his strict adherence to chastity (Lewis 6). Lewis initially depicts Ambrosio as a 'virgin' whose innocence of the world and its iniquities made him vulnerable to temptations. What is interesting to note here is Lewis' misogynic comparison of Ambrosio to a female chaste who does not recognize "what consists the difference of Man and Woman" (Lewis 17). This is of course, one of the significant points Lewis conveys - that the Catholic Church's sexual prescriptions through the vows of celibacy and chastity 'feminize' members of the priesthood as well as deem them susceptible to hypocrisy and temptation. This contention is further delineated in the novel when Rosario, disguised as a male priest, discloses to Ambrosio, that he is a woman. For Blakemore (522-523), this illustrates Lewis' delineation of 'sexual ambiguity' and 'confusion of gender roles' in the novel, where sexual awareness is akin to the 'forbidden apple' which entices the 'virgin' monk to commit iniquities. Lewis' assertions of sexual awareness and gender roles in this novel, clearly defy the church's prescription of the sexual roles of men and women as well as the church's unequivocal doctrine with regards celibacy in the priesthood.
Lewis' blatant inversion of gender roles and sexual prescription strongly illustrates his subversion towards gender and sexual stereotypes that the church had proliferated as well as promulgated. Blakemore for instance, points out that the words 'virtue, honor, chaste, purity and shame' have gender connotations. Lewis, however, inverts his usage of these words describing Ambrosio as 'pure and virtuous' where the word 'pure' has feminine