Places: Carmen

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1845; revised, 1847 (English translation, 1878)

Type of work: Novella

Type of plot: Psychological

Time of work: Early nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Andalusia

*Andalusia. CarmenSouthern province of Spain that is the story’s principal setting. Don José’s narrative to the scholar from his jail cell forms the main body of the tale; he dwells on his recent life as a smuggler and thief for a gang in which his lover, Carmen, acted as a lookout. His story moves from location to location in a wild landscape made up of hills and gorges where he and his fellow brigands pursued a criminal existence.

As he had done in his first experiment with the novella genre in his acclaimed Colomba (1841) set in Corsica, so now Prosper Mérimée again uses an exotic and colorful setting, not faraway places but rather those with sharply different cultures. Indeed, the Spanish landscape becomes part of the very fabric of Carmen. For all that, to avoid offending Spanish friends and sensitivities, Mérimée makes Don José Navarro a Basque and Carmen a gypsy. His 1847 revision of his novella concludes with a chapter on gypsy customs and dialects, but not before identifying the locations in southern Spain (and elsewhere) where gypsies are to be found.

The archaeologist-narrator meets Don José for the first time at a grassy, watery ravine that stands in contrast to the wildness of most other sites mentioned in the story; it is symbolic of the tempo of the novella, which speeds up as its denouement approaches. Eventually, locations in this action-packed drama barely flash by. Thus, this picturesque gorge near Córdoba in Andalusia is described as a green patch of grass near a swamp in which a rivulet gets lost. The entrance of the gorge leads to a sort of natural circus completely shaded by the steep surrounding cliffs.


*Córdoba. Andalusian city on the Guadalquivir River, where Carmen lives after stabbing a fellow worker at the Seville cigar factory where she worked when Don José met her. Her dwelling in an outlying district consists of a large room with a small table, two stools, and a chest. It is the same place where the narrator meets Don José for the second time. Months later, the narrator visits Don José in a Córdoba jail cell, where he is being held after killing Carmen.

Stag Inn

Stag Inn. The venta is also described in detail, suggesting the poverty of Andalusia and thus, in some perverse way perhaps, justifying the fairly widespread brigandage then existing in the province and involving the main characters. This inn is in fact a single-roomed shack which serves as bedroom, dining room, and kitchen both for its operators and their guests. In the squalid room, there is a fire burning in the center, with the smoke emerging through a hole cut in the roof. The “beds” consist of five or six mule blankets which travelers wrap around themselves as they lie on the floor. There is a shed serving as a stable some twenty feet away.

BibliographyCogman, Peter. Mérimée: Colomba and Carmen. London: Grant & Cutler, 1992. A detailed account of the two texts, paying particular attention to their use of the exotic and their deployment of femmes fatales.Horrocks, Gillian. “A Semiotic Study of Carmen.” Nottingham French Studies 25 (1968): 60-72. A brief but interesting structuralist analysis of the story.Raitt, A. W. Prosper Mérimée. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1970. A comprehensive study of the author’s life and works. Includes a detailed discussion of Carmen.Segal, Naomi. Narcissus and Echo: Women in the French Récit. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988. A feminist analysis that discusses Manon Lescaut and Carmen as classic instances of women being blamed by male narrators for their own shortcomings.Tilby, Michael. “Language and Sexuality in Mérimée’s Carmen.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 15 (1979): 255-263. An analysis of the way in which Mérimée employs his borrowings from George Henry Borrow to establish Carmen’s alluring sexual exoticism.
Categories: Places