“Mateo Falcone” – by Prosper Merimee


I drew the eight of diamonds for week 47 of the 2014 Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge, yielding this Prosper Merimee story, which was recommended to me by Hila Katz at The Sill of the World blog.


The story is set in the rugged countryside of Corsica where a man, the title character Mateo Falcone, has made a name and reputation for himself in a land populated by rough-and-tough characters, some of questionable repute. We learn that Mateo and his wife first had three daughters, vexing Mateo to no end, before finally having a son and, presumably, someone to carry on the family name and honor. The son is named, ironically, Fortunato. (The only other literary Fortunato I’m acquainted with met his end in the wine cellar of Edgar Allen Poe’s Montressor…)

One day Falcone goes out to hunt, accompanied by his wife who will scavenge chestnuts for him as they go, leaving ten-year old Fortunato at home. Now, the rugged nature of the surrounding countryside makes it a favorite hideout for bandits and one of this ilk, fleeing the authorities and wounded by a gunshot, approaches the house of Mateo with ’the law’ in hot pursuit. He pleads with the young Fortunato to aid in his escape or at least hide him. Fortunato agrees, for a silver coin, and conceals the fugitive in a haystack just before those chasing him arrive. At first, Fortunato meets the questions of the authorities with impudence and reminds them more than once that “Mateo Falcone is my father!” and thus feels exempted from any “requirement” to cooperate with anyone. The leader of the authorities, sergeant Tiodoro Gamba, is a distant cousin of the Falcones and applies a full court press to persuade the ten-year old to provide him with information regarding the fugitive’s whereabouts…

The shocking and brutal denouement of the story shows that the concept of family honor and sacredness of hospitality are absolutes to the stern Falcone. I was reminded by this story of how ancient and imbedded the concept of the hospitality is in the human race. I had a Classics Professor in college who often talked about “Zeus Xenios” (one of the king of the Gods many roles was that of “patron of hospitality”) and how much woe was heaped upon those who let guests under their roof (or protection) come to harm. He would have liked this story. Below (from Wikipedia) a coin image of Zeus – think of Zeus Xenios the next time you have a guest ask if he can stay with you. (Probably a WWZXD wrist band would be going too far, though)



Prosper Merimee (above) was a 19th century writer and dramatist. He is most famous for the novella Carmen, which was the forerunner of the opera of the same name. This story was also made into an opera in Russia but failed to gain an audience. Have you read any of his work before? What short story/stories did you read this week?

This story is in the public domain and may be read online at http://www.bartleby.com/195/7.html

Below: I wonder if Beyonce read Prosper Merimee’s original novella Carmen, before filming her “Hip Hopera” version of the story…



  1. Dale said,

    November 23, 2014 at 10:53 am

    I’ve got this story in one of my collections – it sounds like a good one. Not surprisingly I’m not up on my pop culture because I didn’t know Beyonce had done a version of Carmen. I might have to check out both the story and the Hip Hopera.


    • Jay said,

      November 25, 2014 at 8:38 am

      I never saw the “Beyonce version” but a pretty big deal was made of it on MTV,etc., when it came out, as I recall. I read another Merimee story for this year’s DMI,but it was one of the handful i never posted about. I need to do an “orphan stories” wrap up post before the year is out. 🙂


  2. Alex said,

    November 25, 2014 at 7:40 am

    I’m also fascinated by the concept of hospitality, breaking break under a roof, etc. I wonder how much is historical fact and how much is literary myth.


    • Jay said,

      November 25, 2014 at 8:41 am

      I could easily see how a reverence for hospitality could have evolved in the early dawn of humankind, when “civilization” was young and where conditions were much harsher and shelter wasn’t taken for granted as it usually is today.


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