Prosper Merimee’s ‘‘Mateo Falcone’’ (1829), originally subtitled ‘‘Les moeurs de Corse’’ (‘‘The Ways of Corsica’’), chronicles the killing of a ten-year-old boy by his father. The story, Merimee’s first, is provocative in spite of the detached narrative voice of his unnamed narrator. This laconic, disconnected voice heightens the shock value of the event and at the same time demands the reader to interpret the story objectively. Such contemporaries as Stendhal (Henri Beyle), Henry James, and Walter Pater admired Merimee and praised him for his craft. Pater called ‘‘Mateo Falcone’’ ‘‘the cruellest story in the world.’’
‘‘Mateo Falcone’’ is a brief, but complex story. It features at least five points of view and at least four ‘‘ways of life’’ (the ‘‘moeurs’’ of the original subtitle). Merimee’s themes include betrayal and honor, savagery and civilization, vendetta and law, and custom and morality. Most importantly, ‘‘Mateo Falcone’’ exemplifies the art of storytelling at its most concentrated and allusive. Most critics consider the story disturbing and unforgettable.