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The Roman Tales [Paperback]

Norman Thomas Di Giovanni , Stendhal , Susan Ashe
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Nov 2012

A contemporary collection of stories by one of France’s finest writers.

Revered by key literary figures including as Balzac and Mérimée, Stendhal is best known for his novels, but his shorter works were just as powerful. In this brand new translation, Susan Ashe brings his greatest Italian stories to the modern reader, whilst staying true to Stendhal’s style and brilliance.

The collection includes:

- The Abbess of Castro
- Vittoria Accordamboni
- The Cenci
- Along with accompanying essays by Charles Dickens, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Stendhal himself.

Together, these stories convey Stendhal’s love of Italy and admiration for the society’s honesty, sincerity, and above all, passion. ‘Roman Tales’ will reaffirm Stendhal as one of the great French masters of the 19th Century.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The Friday Project; Library of Lost Books edition edition (1 Nov 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007487991
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007487998
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,233,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Though justice be thy plea...' 16 April 2013
By FictionFan TOP 100 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Kindle Edition
This slim book contains translations of three of Stendhal's Roman Tales together with an introduction by Norman Thomas di Giovanni and some appendices chosen to fill out the background to the stories. Stendhal's claim is that the three stories are in fact translations of papers he found in archives relating to famous trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Di Giovanni suggests that rather than straight translations, Stendhal has re-written the facts to give them a narrative structure, and this theory certainly seems borne out on reading. The three stories are The Abbess of Castro, Vittoria Accoramboni, and The Cenci.

Each of the stories shows Stendhal's strengths and weaknesses as a storyteller. On the plus side, he casts a great deal of light on Italian society at that point in history, showing the power of the brigands and bravi who held sway over much of the country and often meted out their own forms of violent justice. We also get a glimpse of how the various Popes of the time handled these brigands and a clear idea of the massive corruption that ran throughout the society. On the other hand, Stendhal shows the same weaknesses that stopped The Red and the Black from being one of the true greats of classic literature for me - repetitiveness, a concentration on often irrelevant detail, particularly about money, and an often confusing way of jumping from character to character or of suddenly introducing characters without sufficient explanation of their connection or relevance to the story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting for fans of Stendhal 2 Nov 2012
By Roman Clodia TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
(3.5 stars)

This is a translation of three of Stendhal's curious `Roman Tales', translations that he made from some Italian manuscripts detailing trials from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Published in 1839, only the first one (The Abbess of Castro) feels like a fleshed out novella; the other two (Vittoria Accordamboni, The Cenci) are short narratives that `tell' the stories of these twisted families.

The original story of Vittoria Accordamoni and her brothers is the basis for Webster's The White Devil, so is worth reading to see what Webster does with it. And the story of Beatrice Cenci and her collusion in the murder of her father captured the imaginations of writers such as Shelley, and the artist Guido Reni.

This is a short read and it's difficult to know quite what to make of Stendhal's translations or what his intentions were - interesting for fans of Stendhal, I think, but not the best place to start if you haven't read him before.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not for everyone, but definitely enjoyable! 17 April 2013
Format:Paperback
I first noticed this book on NetGalley and when I read the description I decided I wanted to read it. Also, I am always intrigued by writers who write under a pseudonym, his real name was Marie-Henri Beyle. I have nurtured a new found love for short stories lately, so last night I finally got to indulging myself with this collection.
Revered by key literary figures including as Balzac and Mérimée, Stendhal is best known for his novels, but his shorter works were just as powerful. In this brand new translation, Susan Ashe brings his greatest Italian stories to the modern reader, whilst staying true to Stendhal's style and brilliance.
The collection includes:
- The Abbess of Castro- Vittoria Accordamboni- The Cenci- Along with accompanying essays by Charles Dickens, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Stendhal himself.
Together, these stories convey Stendhal's love of Italy and admiration for the society's honesty, sincerity, and above all, passion. `Roman Tales' will reaffirm Stendhal as one of the great French masters of the 19th Century.
Out of the three stories here translated, 'The Abbess of Castro' is the largest one, taking up almost half the novel. Elena di Campireali, our protagonist, is a young girl whose true love for Giulio Branciforti is spoiled by a proud father and a plotting mother who both consider themselves in a better position to judge than Elena herself. We also see the downfall of pride and stubbornness and it ends very Shakespearian, in death and misery. Stendhal is able to both write objectively and yet make the reader feel for his characters. He perfectly shows that in the real world there are no such things as black-and-white characters.
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Italian history in fiction 17 Mar 2013
By V. T. Carson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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.
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for everyone, but definitely enjoyable! 17 April 2013
By Universe in Words - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I first noticed this book on NetGalley and when I read the description I decided I wanted to read it. Also, I am always intrigued by writers who write under a pseudonym, his real name was Marie-Henri Beyle. I have nurtured a new found love for short stories lately, so last night I finally got to indulging myself with this collection.

Out of the three stories here translated, 'The Abbess of Castro' is the largest one, taking up almost half the novel. Elena di Campireali, our protagonist, is a young girl whose true love for Giulio Branciforti is spoiled by a proud father and a plotting mother who both consider themselves in a better position to judge than Elena herself. We also see the downfall of pride and stubbornness and it ends very Shakespearian, in death and misery. Stendhal is able to both write objectively and yet make the reader feel for his characters. He perfectly shows that in the real world there are no such things as black-and-white characters. Each one of them has motives that are both pure and base and often their means to achieve their goal are flawed at best. I probably preferred this story to the other two because there was more of it, but also because although restrained, Elena is still, to a certain extent, active. She is also the only woman in this small collection who is able to take her life into her own hand and make demands, rather than rely on others, mainly men, to help her. I like that in a female character.

'Vittoria Accordamboni' is a mix between a 'who dunnit' and politcal intrigues. It is a nice cooler after the high passions of 'The Abbess' that preceeded it, but also sets the political tone for the next tale, 'The Cenci'. In essence, this is a family tragedy of epic proportions. Shakespeare would have had a field day, as would Freud probably. Again "translated" from an old source, it tells the tale of the life of Beatrice Cerci (portrait to the left) who like Vittoria really existed and was forced to deal with her father in a rather horrid way. This is, although perhaps the most gruesome, the holiest tale of the three, making Beatrice as pious as is possible considering the circumstances. It made me chuckle at times, although I doubt that was Stendhal or Ashe's intent.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way Stendhal wrote. I have a weakness for anything old and his claim that he was translation 500 year old Latin sources was right up my alley. But whereas I like it, I can easily imagine that Stendhal's writing style alienated others. It is almost a chronicle style of writing, relaying events without colouring them in for the reader. Yet he is said to have been one of the first Realist writers, writing as early as the early 1800's. As Stendhal himself says:
'Therefore, kind reader, do not search in these pages for a striking style, shimmering with fresh allusions to fashionable modes of thought.' p. 91
Not withstanding his "impersonal" style of writing, Stendhal actually stands incredible close to the reader through his writing style. Take the quote below:
'Personally I would not have chosen to portray this character. I would have been satisfied with merely studying him because he is satanic rather than intriguing.' p. 115
He is here telling us of the truly despicable Francesco Cenci. His aversion for this character is also felt by the reader and author and reader bond in this mutual disgust. By relaying to us events already chronicled, Stendhal takes on the form of a storyteller, scaring his friends with terrible stories filled with love, passion and murder.

Credit should also be given to Susan Ashe, who did a great job at translating a work that itself claims to be a translation. Her writing makes the reading experience fluid and easy, despite the often factual information that is being relayed. Also very interesting was the introduction by Norman Thomas di Giovanni and the essays by Stendhal himself, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Dickens in the Appendices. These additions are very informative and truly offer more insight into the text without being obtrusive or too pretentious, as these essays sometimes are.

Overall, although I did really enjoy reading it, I do not know whether I'd reread it in the near future. I am a sucker for historical fiction and I guess this is as close to historical as fiction gets. I read it within an evening and a morning because the stories definitely generate a drive in you to find out how the story plays out. The interlinking and historical accuracy of the tales is also a bonus, in my eyes, and I think everyone could enjoy it as long as they approached it with an open mind.
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Though justice be thy plea...' 16 April 2013
By FictionFan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This slim book contains translations of three of Stendhal's Roman Tales together with an introduction by Norman Thomas di Giovanni and some appendices chosen to fill out the background to the stories. Stendhal's claim is that the three stories are in fact translations of papers he found in archives relating to famous trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Di Giovanni suggests that rather than straight translations, Stendhal has re-written the facts to give them a narrative structure, and this theory certainly seems borne out on reading. The three stories are The Abbess of Castro, Vittoria Accoramboni, and The Cenci.

Each of the stories shows Stendhal's strengths and weaknesses as a storyteller. On the plus side, he casts a great deal of light on Italian society at that point in history, showing the power of the brigands and bravi who held sway over much of the country and often meted out their own forms of violent justice. We also get a glimpse of how the various Popes of the time handled these brigands and a clear idea of the massive corruption that ran throughout the society. On the other hand, Stendhal shows the same weaknesses that stopped The Red and the Black from being one of the true greats of classic literature for me - repetitiveness, a concentration on often irrelevant detail, particularly about money, and an often confusing way of jumping from character to character or of suddenly introducing characters without sufficient explanation of their connection or relevance to the story.

Di Giovanni describes the first tale, The Abbess of Castro, as an example of 'narrative perfection' and claims that the eponymous heroine, Elena de' Campireali, along with others of Stendhal's female characters, is '...amongst the greatest creations in all literature.' Hmm...I'm afraid I can't agree, and I felt the entire introduction was making claims for a level of greatness that the Tales don't live up to. However I found each of the stories interesting despite finding Stendhal's style somewhat off-putting. The translation by Susan Ashe seemed excellent to me and made the stories flow better than either of the translations I tried of The Red and the Black (Moncrieff and Raffel). Di Giovanni tells us, however, that Ashe made significant cuts and some changes to the Tales as part of her translation and I'm not altogether sure that I approve of that even if it perhaps improved them as stories.

The appendices include an essay by Stendhal on the brigands and bravi which, though informative, was overfull of examples in what seems to be typical Stendhal style. We are also given Shelley's preface to his own play based on the same historical event that Stendhal uses in the third tale, The Cenci. And lastly there is a one-page description, by Dickens, of the portrait of La Cenci that apparently shows her on the day before her execution. Dickens gets more emotion into that one page, I'm sorry to note, than Stendhal does in the entire tale.

Overall an interesting rather than particularly enjoyable read that, for me, confirms Stendhal as almost but not quite one of the greats of literature.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.
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