The publication of “Mateo Falcone” in 1829 is often regarded as the start of the modern short story in France. With the tale’s combination of exotic settings and realistic details, this story paved the way for the work of Gustave Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, and the later stories of Mérimée himself. Although Mérimée filled “Mateo Falcone” with detailed descriptions of the Corsican countryside and its inhabitants, he himself did not first visit the island until ten years after the story was written. “Mateo Falcone” thus fits into the tradition of imaginative Romantic exoticism that also includes the historical novels of Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas, père, the mythological paintings of Eugène Delacroix, and the operas and orchestral works of Nicolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov.
Although generally realistic in tone, “Mateo Falcone” contains several symbolic elements. The name “Falcone” (falcon), for example, suggests Mateo’s ferocity and clear sight, details that are mentioned several times in the story. The name “Fortunato” contrasts with the boy’s disastrous fortune in the story. The silver watch with which Gamba bribes Fortunato is reminiscent of the thirty pieces of silver by which Judas Iscariot was bribed by the chief priests to betray Jesus in the Bible.