Authors: Prosper Mérimée

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French short-story writer and novelist

Author Works

Short Fiction:

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)

“Lokis,” 1869

Dernières Nouvelles, 1873 (Last Stories, 1905)

Carmen, and Other Stories, 1998

Long Fiction:

La Famille de Carčajal, 1828

Chronique du règne de Charles IX, 1829 (A Chronicle of the Times of Charles the Ninth, 1830)

Drama:

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

Poetry:

La Guzla, 1827

Nonfiction:

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)

Miscellaneous:

The Writings of Prosper Mérimée, 1905 (8 volumes)

Biography

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.{$I[AN]9810000086}{$I[A]Mérimée, Prosper}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Mérimée, Prosper}{$I[tim]1803;Mérimée, Prosper}

Prosper Mérimée

(Library of Congress)

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.

BibliographyBowman, F. P. Prosper Mérimée: Heroism, Pessimism, and Irony. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1962. Provides an analysis of the heroes depicted in Mérimée’s works, a study of his basically pessimistic ideas about life and human fate, and a discussion of the way Mérimée’s concepts of hero and life express themselves in the formal aspects of his writing. The comic and the ironic, Bowman claims, mask a deep sensitivity. Instead of trivializing the role of the writer, they allow him to maintain an intense awareness of his emotions and fears and to achieve a balance between sensitivity and will. Includes a bibliographic note and extensive references throughout the text.Cogman, P. W. M. “Cheating at Narrating: Back to Mérimée’s ‘La Partie de trictrac.’” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 26 (Fall/Winter, 1997/1998): 80-90. Argues that the tale embodies a tension between psychological content and the narrative technique, which seems to mock storytelling and both exploit and subvert narrative expectations; claims the story has two centers.Cogman, P. W. M. Merimée, Colomba, and Carmen. London: Grant and Cutler, 1992. An examination of the two stories.Dale, R. C. The Poetics of Prosper Mérimée. Paris: Mouton, 1966. An exploration of the creative theory that underlies Mérimée’s practice. Although the focus is more on Mérimée’s theory as revealed in his letters and criticism than on his fictional works, the study does offer a number of insights that can be applied to the fiction. According to Mérimée, Dale concludes, the writer’s fictional works incorporate a worldview that reflects his own psyche or inner self. The study is well substantiated by references to the author’s voluminous correspondence and includes a brief bibliography.Gould, Evlyn. The Fate of Carmen. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. A thoughtful study of Carmen.Mickelsen, David. “Travel, Transgression, and Possession in Mérimée’s Carmen.” Romantic Review 87 (May, 1996): 329-344. Argues that the story should be viewed as an unequal meeting of cultures in which the central figure is not the Gypsy Carmen but the French narrator visiting Spain; claims that examining the role of the narrator helps reveal the cultural imperatives operating within the story, especially its hidden colonialist stance.Raitt, A. W. Prosper Mérimée. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1970. An essential study of the life, times, and works of Mérimée, for both the specialist and the general reader. Raitt combines a biography with critical chapters analyzing Mérimée’s major writings. Illustrations, appendices, a comprehensive bibliography, and an index enhance this book as an invaluable source of material on the French author.Rigolot, François. “Ekphrasis and the Fantastic: Genesis of an Aberration.” Comparative Literature 49 (Spring, 1997): 97-112. Discusses “The Venus of Ille” as an illumination of the fantastic as a displaced mode of ekphrastic representation.Seidler-Golding, Marianne. “Destablized Security in Mérimée’s Short Stories.” Paroles-Gelées 13 (1995): 63-73. Discusses the relationship between explicit violence in Mérimée’s stories and implicit violence in the ways the violent actions are depicted, with reference to “Mateo Falcone” and “The Venus of Ille.”Smith, Maxwell A. Prosper Mérimée. New York: Twayne, 1972. A readable introductory study of the author’s life and works. Especially relevant to the study of the short prose fiction are chapters 6 through 11. Biographical and critical material are supplemented by a chronology of Mérimée’s life, a select bibliography, and an index.Stowe, Richard. “Prosper Mérimée.” In European Writers. Vol. 6 in The Romantic Century, edited by Jacques Barzun and George Stade. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985. This brief study combines a biographical overview with a discussion of the style and content of Mérimée’s major works, including the short fiction. The select bibliography includes editions, collected works, bibliographies, translations, correspondence, and biographical critical studies.Tilby, Michael. “Languages and Sexuality in Mérimée’s Carmen.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 15, no. 3 (1979): 255-263. An analysis of the fictional world of Carmen, focusing on its tight and natural organization.
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