Mateo Falcone by Prosper Mérimée, 1829
The magic trick:
Setting the story’s tone with the opening description of the mâquis
We’re back in France for a bonus weekend. We begin going way back to “Mateo Falcone,” often hailed as the original French short story.
The description of the mâquis that opens the story brilliantly lets you know what you’re in for. It is a tough, unforgiving place. Difficult to live in, even harder to access. “If you have killed a man, go into the mâquis of Porto-Vecchio…” we are told.
Clearly, this story exists in a world beyond familiar society and where survival is an accomplishment. The tone has been set.
And that’s quite a trick on Mérimée’s part.
With this conspicuous talent Mateo Falcone had earned a great reputation. He was said to be a loyal friend, but a dangerous enemy; in other respects he was obliging and gave alms, and he lived at peace with everybody in the district of Porto-Vecchio. But it is told of him that when at Corte, where he had found his wife, he had very quickly freed himself of a rival reputed to be equally formidable in love as in war; at any rate people attributed to Mateo a certain gunshot which surprised his rival while in the act of shaving before a small mirror hung in his window. After the affair had been hushed up, Mateo married. His wife Giuseppa at first presented him with three daughters, which enraged him, but finally a son came whom he named Fortunato; he was the hope of the family, the inheritor of its name. The girls were well married; their father could reckon in case of need upon the poniards and rifles of his sons-in-law. The son was only ten years old, but he had already shown signs of a promising disposition.
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