The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis was published in 1796 and is considered one of the classic exemplars of the late eighteenth-century Gothic Romance. It is set in Madrid, Spain, and has a complex and violent plot. The extreme villains of the piece are members of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy and the Spanish Inquisition appears as a harsh and terrifying force as well. Thus the novel, as well as offering lurid entertainment, panders to the English anti-Catholicism of the period. The novel's plot revolves around three romantic pairings: Ambrosio/Matilda, Antonia/Don Lorenzo, and Agnes/Don Raymond.
The monk of the title is Ambrosio who was left on the doorstep of the Abbey as a baby; he is actually the brother of Antonia. He is 30 at the time the novel begins, a popular preacher, and sexually innocent. Matilda is an evil sorceress who disguises herself as a young male novice named Rosario and joins the monastery because she is in love with (or at least physically desires) Ambrosio. Matilda manages to seduce Ambrosio, and he discovers that he rather enjoys the sexual act, but quickly becomes bored with Matilda and desires to sleep with Antonia, one of his young parishioners.
Antonia is a young innocent girl of 15 who is in love with Don Lorenzo. Ambrosio, aided by Matilda's magic, manages to rape and abduct and eventually kill Antonia, who dies in Lorenzo's arms just as he has manged to break into the crypt to rescue her.
Meanwhile, Agnes, who is unmarried but pregnant with Raymond's child, thinks Raymond has abandoned her, and joins a convent. Ambrosio condemns her to harsh punishment for her lack of virginity. She is imprisoned in a dungeon and tortured, but nonetheless gives birth to a baby and is rescued during a riot as her cries and those of her baby lead Lorenzo to her. She is nursed back to health, and eventually marries Raymond.
Ambrosio and Matilda are imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition but Matilda's sorcery enables them to escape. Lucifer kills Ambrosio.