Prosper Mérimée  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Prosper Mérimée (September 28, 1803–September 23, 1870) was a French dramatist, historian, archaeologist, and short story writer. He is perhaps best known for his novella Carmen, which became the basis of the opera Carmen.



Prosper Mérimée was born in Paris. He studied law as well as Greek, Spanish, English, and Russian. He was the first interpreter of much Russian literature in France.

Mérimée loved mysticism, history, the unusual, and the mystification (in the latter he was influenced by Charles Nodier), the historical fiction popularised by Sir Walter Scott and the cruelty and psychological drama of Aleksandr Pushkin. Many of his stories are mysteries set in foreign places, Spain and Russia being popular sources of inspiration.

In 1834, Mérimée was appointed to the post of inspector-general of historical monuments. He was a born archaeologist, combining linguistic faculty of a very unusual kind with accurate scholarship, with remarkable historical appreciation, and with a sincere love for the arts of design and construction, in the former of which he had some practical skill. In his official capacity he published numerous reports, some of which, with other similar pieces, have been republished in his works.

Mérimée met and befriended the Countess of Montijo in Spain in 1830 whom he credited as being his source for the Carmen story. Together with the countess, he coached her daughter, Eugenie, during the courtship with Napoleon III (though his correspondence indicates he was opposed to their marriage). When the daughter became the Empress Eugénie of France in 1853, he was made a senator.

In 1841, Prosper Mérimée and his friend George Sand made a major contribution to the history of medieval art by discovering the luminous tapestries of The Lady and the Unicorn during a stay at the Château de Boussac in the Limousin district of central France, which entered immediately into history thanks to the writings of George Sand.

Prosper Mérimée died in Cannes, France and was interred there in the Cimetière du Grand Jas.

The French national list of heritage monuments is called the Base Mérimée is his honour.


  • Cromwell (1822) - his first play. It was never published and no copies exist. Mérimée felt its similarities with contemporary French politics were too obvious and he destroyed the manuscript.
  • Le Théâtre de Clara Gazul (1825) - a hoax, supposedly a translation by one Joseph L'Estrange of work written by a Spanish actress.
  • La Guzla (1827) - another hoax, ballads about various mystical themes proportedly translated from the original "Illyrian" (i.e. Serbo-Croatian) by one Hyacinthe Maglanowich. These ballads had considerable influence, translated into Russian, notably by Pushkin and Lermontov.
  • La Jacquerie (1828) - dramatic scenes about a peasant insurrection in feudal times.
  • La Chronique du temps de Charles IX (1829) - a novel set at the French court at the time of the St. Bartholomew massacre (1572).
  • "Mateo Falcone" (1829) - a short story about a Corsican man who kills his son in the name of justice (made into an opera of the same name by the Russian composer César Cui)
  • Mosaïque (1833) - a collection of short stories, containing: "Mateo Falcone", "Vision de Charles XI", "L'enlèvement de la redoute", "Tamango, "Le fusil enchanté", "Federigo", "Ballades", "La partie de trictrac", "Le vase étrusque", "Les mécontens". It also includes three of his letters from Spain. Most of these tales were previously published in the Revue de Paris in 1829 and 1830.
  • Les âmes du Purgatoire (1834) - a novella about the libertine Dom Juan Maraña.
  • La Vénus d'Ille (1837) - a fantastic horror tale of a bronze statue that seemingly comes to life.
  • Notes de voyages (1835-40) - describing his travels through Greece, Spain, Turkey, and France.
  • Colomba (1840) - his first famous novella about a young Corsican girl who pushes her brother to commit murder to avenge their father's death.
  • Carmen (1845) - another famous novella describing an unfaithful gypsy girl who is killed by the soldier who loves her (made into an opera by Georges Bizet in 1875).
  • Lokis (1869) - set in Lithuania, it is the horror story of a man who, it would seem, is half bear and half man and enjoys feasting on human flesh.
  • La Chambre bleue (1872) - a farce that has all the trappings of a supernatural tale but in the end turns out to be anything but...
  • Lettres à une inconnue (1874) - a collection of letters from Mérimée to Jenny Dacquin, published after his death.
Translation from Russian
  • La Dame de pique (The Queen of Spades, "Пиковая дама"), Les Bohémiens (The Gypsies, "Цыганы"), Le Hussard ("Гусар") (1852), from Pushkin.
  • L'Inspecteur général (1853) from Gogol's The Inspector General ("Ревизор").
  • Le Coup de pistolet ("Выстрел") (1856), from Pushkin.
  • Apparitions ("Призраки") (1866), from Turgenev.

Liste des œuvres

  • 1825 Théâtre de Clara Gazul, comédienne espagnole
  • 1827 La Guzla, ou choix de poésies illyriques
  • 1828 La Jacquerie, scènes féodales, suivie de la famille de Carvajal
  • 1829 Chronique du règne de Charles IX
  • 1833 La double méprise. La Mosaïque
  • 1835 Notes d'un voyage dans le midi de la France
  • 1836 Notes d'un voyage dans l'Ouest de la France
  • 1838 Notes d'un voyage en Auvergne
  • 1841 Colomba et nouvelles diverses
  • 1841 Notes d'un voyage en Corse
  • 1841 Essai sur la guerre sociale
  • 1844 Études sur l'histoire romaine, 2 vol. Peintures de l'église Saint-Savin (Vienne)
  • 1847 Carmen
  • 1848 Histoire de don Pedro 1er, roi de Castille
  • 1850 Henry Beyle (Stendhal)
  • 1852 Nouvelles
  • 1853 Les faux Démétrius, épisode de l'histoire de Russie
  • 1854 Les deux héritages, comédie, suivie de scènes historiques
  • 1855 Mélanges historiques et littéraires. Marino Vreto, contes de la Grèce moderne
  • 1865 Les Cosaques d'autrefois
  • 1873 Dernières nouvelles. Lettres à une inconnue, 2 vol.



  • Lettres d’Espagne (1832)
  • Notes de voyages (1835 - 1840)


  • Essai sur la guerre sociale (1841)
  • Études sur l’histoire romaine (1845)
  • Histoire de Don Pèdre Ier, roi de Castille (1847)
  • La Littérature en Russie, Nicolas Gogol (1851)
  • Épisode de l'Histoire de Russie, Les Faux Démétrius (1852)


  • Lettres à Panizzi (recueil, date 1856 )
  • Une correspondance inédite (octobre 1854-février 1863), avertissement de Fernand Brunetière (3ème édition, Calmannn-Lévy 1897 - publiée pour la 1ère fois ds La Revue des Deux Mondes)
  • Ouvrages de Maurice Parturier :
  • Une correspondance inédite de Prosper Mérimée (supplément littéraire du Figaro des 2, 9, 16 et 23 mars 1929)
  • Mérimée, Lettres aux Grasset (La Connaissance, 1929)
  • Curiosités sur Mérimée (Le Figaro Littéraire, 17 octobre 1931)
  • Lettres de Mérimée à la famille Delessert - préface d'Emile Henriot (Plon, 1931)
  • Précisions sur Mérimée (La Revue de Paris, des 1er et 15 septembre 1932)
  • Autour de Mérimée (Giraud-Badin, 1932)
  • idem. ( Bulletin du Bibliophile, 20 mai 1932)
  • Lettres de M. à Ludovic Vitet (Plon, 1934)
  • Deux lettres de P. M. à George Sand (Le Divan, juillet-septembre 1935)
  • Lettres de P. M. à Madame de Beaulaincourt, 1866-1870 (Calmann-Lévy, 1936)
  • Introduction aux lettres de M. aux Antiquaires de l'Ouest, recueillies et annotées par Jean Maillon (1937)
  • Correspondance générale Paris (Le Divan ; le tome VI (1850-1852) date de 1947)
  • Une amitié littéraire, Prosper Mérimée et Ivan Tourgueniev (Hachette, 1952)

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