I read Stendhal's famous novel, the Red and the Black, quite some time ago, but recently came across this small collection of short stories, recently re-translated and released in Kindle format. The stories are titled: The Abbess of Castro, Vittoria Accoramboni, and The Cenci. The stories are accompanied by several "Appendixes", including an interesting history titled Brigands in Italy, by Stendhal; an introduction to a play written by Bysshe Shelley that was based on The Cenci; and a brief description, by Charles Dickens, of a painting of Beatrice Cenci, who was executed in 1599, with her step-mother and one brother, for murdering her father.
Stendhal maintained that the three stories were just his own translations of certain transcripts he found in or near Rome, describing criminal trials that occurred in the 1500's and 1600's. "Old and yellowing manuscripts concerning celebrated trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which for the most part ended in the torture and brutal execution of the accused. Among these lurid narratives were accounts of popes dispatching cardinals, executions for murder, beheadings, burnings at the stake, and so forth."
Susan Ashe, the translator of The Roman Tales, believes that the transcripts merely inspired Stendhal's stories, and that much of the style reflects Stendhal's own beliefs and thoughts. I believe that Stendhal's account of the matter is closer to the truth, because the stories have a distinctly historic feel and structure and lack much literary sensibility.
Only in The Abbess of Castro, does the author follow the story from its beginning, through the rejection of the suitor by the woman's family, through his banishment for invading a convent to rescue the woman, to the woman's suicide when her lover returns. The story of Vittoria Accoramboni is quite hard to follow, because the author mixes a story about Pope Sixtus V and the murder of his son, with the story of the son's wife, Vittoria, who is murdered later with her brothers, probably on the orders of the Pope. Those murderers, in turn, are killed by the authorities, who destroy by cannon-fire the villa in which they are hiding. The story of The Cenci fails to fully explore the tragedy of a young woman's execution for killing the father who tried to force himself upon her; instead, seeming more interested in the way in which the execution was carried out and the political infighting and appeals to the Pope that preceded the execution.
In some ways, Stendhal's history of the Brigands in Italy is more interesting than the stories themselves. Also, Shelley's introduction to his play reflects much more of the pathos and tragedy of The Cenci story than Stendhal's original. Finally, Dickens' short description of the portrait of Beatrice Cenci, painted while she was in prison, far outshines the whole of Stendhal's text:
"The head is loosely draped in white; the light hair falling down below the linen folds. She has turned suddenly towards you; and there is an expression in the eyes - although they are very tender and gentle - as if the wildness of a momentary terror, or distraction, had been struggled with and overcome, that instant; and nothing but a celestial hope, and a beautiful sorrow, and a desolate earthly helplessness remained."
I enjoyed The Roman Tales almost in spite of Stendhal's telling of them.