Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 315

Merimee had the good fortune to be appreciated by critics and readers. Many commentators throughout the years have praised the great economy of Merimee’s narrative style, his intense evocation of locale through few words, and his ability to create stark and powerful action. These traits appear in ‘‘Mateo Falcone’’ and endear the story to its earliest critics.

Walter Pater, an English critic writing around 1880, called Merimee’s fiction ‘‘intense, unrelieved, an art of fierce colours.’’ ‘‘Mateo Falcone’’ has, in particular, provoked admiration. Pater, for example, thought it quite possibly ‘‘the cruellest story in the world,’’ intending the description as a compliment.

Critics have cited the classical qualities of ‘‘Mateo Falcone,’’ as in A. W. Raitt’s 1970 comment that the story ‘‘obeys the unities as strictly as any classical tragedy.’’ For Maxwell H. Smith (1972), the story represents Merimee’s ‘‘first dazzling success’’ and constitutes a ‘‘brief tale condensed into a dozen pages . . . sufficient to confirm the literary reputation’’ of its creator.

Smith’s reading of the tale exemplifies the typical interpretation, for Smith refers to ‘‘the tragic loneliness of Mateo after the sacrifice of his beloved son,’’ a remark which subtly justifies the killing, at least, so to speak, in its context. The typical reading is thus one that discusses the social code depicted in the story, particularly the role of vendetta. One might call this recurrent reading the ‘‘ethnological reading’’ in that it takes the position of a noninvolved and non-judgmental observer of a particular ethnic ‘‘way of life.’’ Merimee’s original subtitle, ‘‘Les moeurs de Corse,’’ or ‘‘The Ways (or Manners) of Corsica,’’ perhaps influences critics to take this stance.

Some critics have examined the detached and alienated narrative voice of the narrator in the story. Raitt and Albert J. George, for example, both comment on the narrator’s detachment, a trait noted previously by Hippolyte Taine and Pater in the nineteenth century.

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Essays and Criticism