Mosaïque, 1833 (The Mosaic, 1905)
La Double Méprise, 1833 (A Slight Misunderstanding, 1905)
La Vénus d’Ille, 1837 (The Venus of Ille, 1903)
Colomba, 1840 (English translation, 1853)
Carmen, 1845 (English translation, 1878)
Nouvelles, 1852 (Stories, 1905)
Dernières Nouvelles, 1873 (Last Stories, 1905)
Carmen, and Other Stories, 1998
La Famille de Carčajal, 1828
Chronique du règne de Charles IX, 1829 (A Chronicle of the Times of Charles the Ninth, 1830)
Le Théâtre de Clara Gazul, pb. 1825 (The Plays of Clara Gazul, 1825)
La Jaquerie, pb. 1828
L’Occasion, pb. 1829
La Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement, pb. 1829
Les Deux Héritages, pb. 1850
La Guzla, 1827
Histoire de don Pedre Ier, roi de Castille, 1848 (The History of Peter the Cruel, 1849; 2 volumes)
Les Faux Démétrius, 1852 (Demetrius, the Impostor, 1853)
Lettres à une inconnue, 1874 (Letters to an Unknown, 1874)
Correspondance générale, 1941-1964 (17 volumes)
The Writings of Prosper Mérimée, 1905 (8 volumes)
Prosper Mérimée (may-ree-may), born in Paris in 1803, was not the greatest French writer of the nineteenth century. However, he was certainly one of the most versatile. Oddly, it was his lack of dedication that gave him his importance. At a time when writers tended to take themselves (and to be taken) very seriously, and when the murky seas of Germanic Romanticism threatened to inundate the level plain of Gallic thought, Mérimée stood indifferently on his own personal promontory, observant, uncommitted, and completely dry. He began his literary career with two of the most thorough hoaxes ever perpetrated on a reading public and ended it with a tale designed to shock the ladies of the Empress Eugénie’s court.
Mérimée could afford to be indifferent. Despite his claim that he wrote Carmen because he was in need of a new pair of pants, Mérimée never had to rely on his pen for financial support or for prestige. His success in the novel and the short story was but one of his many accomplishments. He was also a lawyer, a public official important enough in his position as inspector general of public monuments to be retained through two great changes in power (the end of the Bourbon Restoration in 1830 and the abdication of Louis-Philippe in the revolution of 1848) and to be made a senator under Louis-Napoleon, a painter of some talent, a lover of some notoriety, an authority on Russian literature, a member of the French Academy, and a mentor and friend of the empress of the French.
His father was Léonor Mérimée, a highly regarded academic painter of the period who, shortly before Prosper’s birth in 1803, was made secretary of the École des Beaux Arts. Prosper, his only child, and a sickly one at that, was spoiled and pampered by a mother who was also a talented artist.
Mérimée’s interest in painting was subordinated early to his one great desire: the acquisition of knowledge. To further this end he enrolled in the École de Droit and received his degree in law at the age of twenty. Some two years before, however, he had met the novelist Stendhal, who was to become a lifelong friend and who was immediately to stimulate his interest in authorship. Mérimée began a play, but here his comic indifference intervened. Instead of the serious Cromwell (never published), there emerged a whole series of plays, mock romances by a fictitious Spanish actress.
This hoax, The Plays of Clara Gazul, had hardly been discovered when Mérimée followed with a second, La Guzla, a collection of ballads reputedly from the unwritten works of a Dalmatian bard. Content with these hoaxes, he turned next to the novel, producing his ironic A Chronicle of the Times of Charles the Ninth in 1829.
Mérimée’s career as a public official began the next year, and with it came journeys throughout France and the rest of Europe. His work as an archaeologist developed his powers of observation, and his travels gave him much to observe. His tales and novels were the result: Carmen grew out of a number of incidents observed during trips to Spain, and Colomba was inspired by an official tour of Corsica in 1839. “Lokis,” on the other hand, developed from his interest in the Lithuanian language and his friendship with a Polish countess. This coolly realized tale of bestiality along Europe’s cold northern shores once again illustrates Mérimée’s genius for turning his emotional detachment into aesthetic triumph.
Ironically, for all his indifference, Mérimée’s public triumph did not endure through his lifetime. After having survived two political upheavals, he was forced from office with the fall of the Second Empire in 1870, and he died a few months later at Cannes, on September 23, 1870.