Found shamelessly reading The Monk.
It’s awful. The editor’s introduction (reprinted from the 1906 edition) gets it right:
“There is food for thought in the case of a man of mere average ability who, on the strength of one crude production written in his teens, was able to find publishers and a market for a miscellaneous series of works that would daunt the hardihood of the most indefatigable researcher to read now …but was regarded as among the leading men of letters of his day.”
Mathew Gregory Lewis was so famous for his book that he was known as “Monk Lewis”. He knew Byron and Moore.
Written in 1795 before the author was twenty, (like Vathek, except Beckford could write) the book attracted such praise and blame that the second edition was “expurgated” by the author.
The writing is awful. Not “awful by modern standards” but just “awful”. It’s hard to believe that Byron admired the book; though possibly it was the idea of openly admiring such a shocking story that was attractive to his lordship. (Actually given B’s biography there may have a been a bit of self identification at work).
There’s a certain sour attraction to the main plot line. And it’s obviously a very English assault on the perceived uglyness of the Catholic church and some of its institutions. (Which links it to Melmoth but Maturin could write) )
Ambrosio the monk begins life as a paragon of religious virtue and the story traces his slippery descent from fornication with another monk..( a woman disguised as a monk, or a devil disguised as a woman disguised as a monk) to destruction by the devil himself. On the way he becomes an obvious candidate for the Group W Bench with mother killing, sister raping and sister stabbing along the way, before being caught and mangled by the Inquisition and then signing a pact with Satan who admits he’s been after him all along, sinks his claws into his skull, flies him up to a great height and drops him.
There’s lots more: sub plots on sub plots…a Bleeding Nun, villains in way side inns, a pregnant nun, who is killed then found alive, brothers losing sisters and finding them, a lover who after losing his lover and finding her raped and stabbed takes up with a conveniently good looking nun who isn’t a nun …You could troop the colour through the plot holes..(Rosario the monk who is actually Matilda who is actually a devil is examined by the convent doctor who doesn’t seem to notice his patient is a woman and this doesn’t surprise Ambrosio.)
So, Le Fanu is still leading hands down. There is only Varney the Vampyre left to consider.
(According to Brewer's "to win hands down" comes from racing where a jockey who is taking it easy has his hands down and one who is trying hard has his hands up).