Brander Matthews (18521929). The Short-Story. 1907.
Notes to Mateo Falcone
By Prosper Mérimée (18031870)
MÉRIMÉE was a scholar and a traveler; and he liked to present what he had imagined as though it was the casual result of his voyaging. A man of deep feeling, he veiled his emotion behind a mask of irony; and he told his stories with stark directness as though he had no sympathy with the creatures of his imagination. He knew Russian, and he had translated more than one tale by Pushkin and by Turgenieff; but he had none of the pity which is characteristic of the Russian writers. He had abundant invention, with a leaning toward tragedy, seized in its intensest aspects. These qualities are visible in Mateo Falcone, published in 1829, as well as in the longer Carmen.
This is at once a story of local colorfor it could not have happened outside of Corsicaand a tale of inexorable justice, presented with a total absence of sentimentality. The author tells us that this thing happened in this fashion; and he omits all comment. His attitude appears to be cold and remote, devoid of sympathy; yet his narrative is so devised as to make us feel intensely for the hapless father who cannot but do what seems to him his duty. Especially noteworthy is the skill with which Mérimée, starting with colloquial common-place, steadily stiffens the interest until it culminates in the unexpected catastrophe. Attention should be called also to the reserve with which Mérimée presents the figure of the unfortunate lads mother, upon whose emotions it would have been easy to dilatebut only to the weakening of the total effect.