COLOMBA, Prosper Mérimée’s second novel, is set in Corsica. When the novel was published, Corsica was part of France politically but was, to most Frenchmen, an exotic country where life was simpler and where the vendetta held the place that law held in the rest of France. Mérimée’s talent for describing the folkways of exotic, lawless peoples is clear in COLOMBA, although not as fully developed as in his later novel, CARMEN. COLOMBA, however, is not an escapist romance. Although a love story, it is also a story, told on the personal level, of the struggle between the modern state, with its laws, and the ancient Corsican family, with its vendettas.
Most of the struggle is within the soul of Orso della Rebbia, a former Corsican soldier now in the French army. Familiar with the ways of the modern state, he is goaded into the vendetta by his sister Colomba, who knows only the old ways. He is restrained, to some extent, by Lydia Nevil, the English girl whom he loves and who has given him her Egyptian ring as a reminder that he must obey the law and disregard the vendetta. Lydia and Colomba are symbols of the modern view and the older view; their struggle for Orso symbolizes his internal torment. Ultimately he demonstrates the victory of Lydia and her way of thinking by formally surrendering to the law to stand trial for a crime he did not commit.
Peripheral roles are played by Barricini, who cannot give up the vendetta, although he has become a lawyer and a mayor under the new system, and by the prefect, who uses both persuasion and force to do his delicate job. The struggle between law and vendetta is seen from many aspects and brilliantly described from each of them.