Mérimée, Prosper

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Mérimée, Prosper

(prôspĕr` mārēmā`), 1803–70, French author. He first wrote a collection of plays in imitation of Spanish drama, The Plays of Clara Gazul (1825, tr. 1825), and a collection of so-called Illyrian ballads, La Guzla (1827). His important historical novel, The Chronicle of the Reign of Charles IX (1829; tr. 1830, 1890), is marked by an objectivity and psychological penetration rare among the romanticists. He was master of a concise and understated style, most fully realized in his nouvelles, or long stories, for which he is best known. Outstanding examples include Colomba (1852, tr. 1853); Carmen (in Revue des Deux Mondes, 1845; as a book, 1846, tr. 1881), which was the basis of Bizet's opera; La Vénus d'Ille (1837); and Letters to an Unknown (in Revue des Deux Mondes, 1873; as a book, 1874, tr. 1874). His short story, "Mateo Falcone" (1876), is a masterpiece of the genre. A cultivated man of the world, Mérimée was a student of archaeology, a linguist who translated Russian authors into French, and a senator under the Empire. He also wrote literary and art criticism and historical studies.

Bibliography

See biography by A. W. Raitt (1970); study by M. A. Smith (1973).

Mérimée, Prosper

 

Born Sept. 27, 1803, in Paris; died Sept. 23, 1870, in Cannes. French writer. Elected to the Academic Franchise in 1844.

Mérimée was the son of an artist. He graduated from the faculty of law at the Sorbonne in 1823. A romantic interest in exotic countries is reflected in his first work, the collection of plays The Theater of Clara Gazul (1825), which he ascribed to a fictitious Spanish comedienne. The plays contain a number of references to the contemporary French scene and are a subtle parody of the reactionary romantic theater and its melodramatic conventions.

In the collection La Guzla (1827), a pseudonymous hoax inspired by Illyrian folk songs, Merimee imitated folk art so accurately that he deceived A. Mickiewicz, as well as A. S. Pushkin, who translated the collection as Songs of the West Slavs. La Guzla is noteworthy for the author’s use of realistic techniques to reveal the personalities of heroes in conflict with society.

Mérimée was fascinated by turbulent periods in history. He wrote about French history in the chronicle-drama. The Jacquerie (1828) and in the novel Chronicle of the Reign of Charles IX (1829). In short stories written during the late 1820’s (the collection Mosaic, 1833), Mérimée depicted strong, straightforward characters who had not yet been touched by the “corrupting”influence of civilization (“Mateo Falcone”and “Tamango”) . The contemporary scene was reflected in the short stories “The Etruscan Vase”and “The Backgammon Game” (both 1830).

The emptiness and hypocrisy of bourgeois society and the power of money were depicted with irony and sarcasm in short stories and novellas written by Mérimée in the 1830’s and 1840’s, including The Double Misunderstanding,“Arsene Guillot,”and “The Abbé Aubain.”In the short stories “The Venus of Ille,”“Colomba,”and “Carmen” (1845) the author focuses on the clash between bourgeois morality and primitive but more just moral norms.

Mérimée’s prose reached its peak in the 1830’s and 1840’s. Using the techniques of the “story within a story”and introducing into the text alleged old letters or unexpected historical and philological digressions, Mérimée created a superficially calm, detached narrative style.

Mérimée’s scholarly works are distinguished by a superior literary mastery. Among them are books of essays (for example, Notes on a Journey Through the South of France, 1835), critical articles, and research on medieval architecture and on the history of ancient Rome, Spain, the Ukraine, and Russia.

After 1848, Mérimée’s creative activity declined. During his later years his interest in Russian culture increased. He became friendly with A. I. Turgenev, I. S. Turgenev, and S. A. Sobolevskii. An impassioned propagandist of Russian literature, he wrote a series of articles on Gogol, Turgenev, and Pushkin and translated many of their works. His interest in Slavic themes was reflected in the late novella, Lokis (1869). Mérimée’s works have been the basis for plays, musical comedies, and operas (for example, Bizet’s Carmen, 1875), as well as many films.

WORKS

Oeuvres completes, vols. 1-12. Paris, 1927-33. (Publication not completed.)
Romans et nouvelles, vols. 1-2, Paris [1967].
Histoire du régne de Pierre le Grand. Paris, 1947.
Correspondance générate, vols. 1-17. Paris-Toulouse, 1941-64.
In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch. , vols. 1-3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1933-34.
Sobr. soch. , vols. 1-6. Moscow, 1963.

REFERENCES

Vinogradov, A. K. Merime v pis’makh k Sobolevskomu. Moscow, 1928.
Istoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 2. Moscow, 1956.
Trahard, P. [Mérimée], vols. 1-4. 1925-30.
Baschet, R. Mérimée. Paris, 1958.
Leon, P. Mérimée et son temps. Paris, 1962.
BIBLIOGRAPHICAL PUBLICATIONS
Paevskaia, A. V., and V. T. Danchenko. Prosper Merime: Bibliografiia russkikh perevodov i kriticheskoi literatury na russkom iazyke: 1828-1967. Moscow, 1968.
Raitt, A. W. P. Mérimée. London [1970].
Trahard, P., and P. Josserand. Bibliographic des oeuvres de P. Mérimée. Paris, 1929.

A. D. MIKHAILOV