Brigands, convents under siege, a prince who’d do Machiavelli proud . . . This adventurous novella from a writer famous for far longer works is a singular take on love and war in Renaissance Italy. Claiming to be translating from sixteenth-century manuscripts, Stendhal tells the story of two doomed young lovers--one the daughter of the wealthiest man in the district, the other a brigand. It’s a genuinely moving tale of impossible love--with plenty of swordfights thrown in--that’s unique in Stendhal’s oeuvre, not least in its portrait of an intelligent woman who, ill-starred in love, turns to worldly power. There’s also some sparkling analysis of the conditions that produced the great art of the Renaissance. But The Abbess of Castro--first published in the same year as Stendhal’s novel The Charterhouse of Parma--is also characterized by themes that pervade his longer novels: political and familial machinations, a profoundly unsentimental view of war, ambitious individuals undone by passion. Never before available as a standalone edition, the novella is a powerful dose of the writer at the peak of his skills.