Typical of Prosper Mérimée’s art is “Mateo Falcone,” first published in 1829, and included in the volume Mosaïque. Set in Corsica, it is a story of rigorous family pride and personal honor. While Mateo Falcone and his wife are away caring for their flocks, their ten-year-old son Fortunato remains at home alone. A bandit, however, pursued by soldiers, arrives and gives the young boy some coins in exchange for the latter’s promise to hide him. Moments later, the soldiers arrive and question Fortunato, who disavows any knowledge of the bandit. The captain, nevertheless, is a clever person; he shows the boy a lovely silver watch that will be his if he reveals the presence of the fugitive. Unable to resist, Fortunato grasps the watch and reveals the hiding place. Mateo and his wife return at this point and hear the bandit cursing the greedy child and his family. Profoundly shocked, Mateo asks his wife if Fortunato is truly his son, for if so, Fortunato is the first member of his race to have betrayed another. Consanguinity confirmed by the mother, father and son walk into the underbrush where Fortunato is ordered to pray and is shot. One of Mérimée’s first published works in prose, this short story is powerful precisely because of the author’s meticulous control of the material. There are no digressions, no self-serving descriptions, no gratuitous details. Mérimée’s sober and rigorous discipline is in marked contrast to the exuberant mood of Honoré de Balzac, his contemporary. The tone of detachment heightens the intensity of primitive passion, giving a mythical quality to the story.
Another tale of Corsican passion is Colomba, which deals with the notion of vengeance that overpowers all other considerations. After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, Lieutenant Orso returns to his native Corsica to learn that his father has been killed. Rumors suggest that the Barricini family is responsible, although the official accounts exonerate them. Because of his European experience and culture, and because his long absence from the island may have dulled his native instincts, Orso’s first response is to accept things as they are. His sister Colomba, however, has been eagerly awaiting his return to avenge her father, and she will not allow Orso’s complacency. Similar to Electra in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Les Mouches (1943; The Flies, 1946), Colomba drives her brother to action,...
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