First published in 1796, The Monk by Matthew Lewis is set in Madrid. Like the title suggests, a monk called Ambrosio is one of the central characters. When the story begins, Ambrosio is the idol of Madrid, and as the story progresses, we see how his falls. Ambrosio's demise begins from his nearest friend, a monk who adores him very much. This monk turns out to be a disguised woman and she will do anything to please Ambrosio. Unfortunately she is not a faithful friend, because she doesn't give him good advice. She encourages Ambrosio to go on with his desire, whatever it is, even though they know that the Church forbids it.
Other characters are Don Lorenzo and Don Raymond, two noblemen who each has their own sweetheart: Don Lorenzo loves Antonia, a far relative of Don Raymond; and Don Raymond loves Agnes, Don Lorenzo's sister. Both love stories seem to end tragically, although in the end Don Raymond gets his Agnes after a tribulation; while Don Lorenzo loses his Antonia but gets a worthy replacement.
The novel is well written and fast paced, often using story within a story. There are robbery attempt, ghosts, murders, rape, incest, tortures and black magic. Ambrosio is not the only bad priest in here, because the Prioress of St Clare is also ruthless. These are church leaders and people listen to them, but they have no pity and give no mercy. A mistake like what Agnes has done, which Ambrosio happens to find out, makes the Prioress punishes her with maximum because the Prioress feels she has lost a face in front of Ambrosio, the idol of Madrid. Ambrosio can tell the Prioress to be softer, but he is afraid he will open his own mask, so he stays silent and let Agnes face her doom.
People come to the church to listen to Ambrosio, yet this monk doesn't really know about the Grace of God. After he fell to temptation and is facing a court, they break his body and spirit in a torture, and he surrenders to the darkness. Doesn't he know that misery in this world is only for the time being and that in other world it is eternal? He escapes the 2nd torture from the Inquisition by selling his soul to the devil, believing the Father of the Liars's words that after what he has done to Antonia and her mother, he will never be saved.