Tarchetti's striking novel (titled Fosca in Italian) has it all -- obsession, deception, sex, death, and passion in many ineluctable forms -- but not until Stephen Sondheim turned it into a musical did someone bother to translate this fine 19th-century work into English. Giorgio is an Italian army officer with a hypersensitive and romantic sensibility more suited to a poet. He has an intense affair with a married woman and mother, the robustly beautiful Clara. But then Giorgio is transferred from Milan to a small, unnamed city, where he meets his commanding officer's cousin Fosca, the novel's vortex. With her grotesque physiognomy and sickly gauntness, Fosca seems more likely to be found in Dante's Inferno than in any love triangle. But horrifically, masterfully, Tarchetti shows how Giorgio is drawn reluctantly under her control; disgusted, cajoled, repulsed, fascinated, Giorgio ultimately finds himself in thrall to this creature. The reader balks occasionally, as turned off by Fosca's manipulation of the soldier as Giorgio is by her appearance, but that parallel may very well be just what the author intended, as both unwilling lover and disapproving reader are woven into her spell. Venuti, who previously translated Tarchetti's Fantastic Tales (not reviewed) provides a helpful introduction with discussions of the novel's context, its autobiographical origins, and scapigliatura, the subversive artistic movement in which he locates Passion. His take on the relationship between disease, beauty, and the erotic in the novel, as well as his comments regarding ""the variable contours of personal identity,"" are fascinating. Stylistically, however, his prose is sometimes stiff, with an occasional jarring phrase. And his limp analysis of Passion's appeal today has little to offer save a fairly obvious reference to the AIDS crisis. The editorial apparatus hardly matters: In Fosca, Tarchetti has created an exasperating yet alluring character sure to be remembered long after the affair has ended.