Prosper Mérimée was the only child of a comfortable middle-class couple, both of whom were artists by profession and freethinking republicans in outlook. Growing up in Paris, and in such a family, Mérimée came naturally by his attraction to the arts and his inveterate skepticism about religion, politics, and human behavior. The influence of that family atmosphere was also largely responsible for the central paradox of Mérimée’s personality: the profoundly sensitive and romantic soul who concealed his tender response to the world under a public mask of ironic wit and cold detachment.
There is an oft-told anecdote about Mérimée, that at the age of only five years—feeling so humiliated by his mother’s laughter when he begged her forgiveness, on his knees, for some trivial misbehavior—he vowed on the spot never to expose himself again to the mockery of others; this illustrates clearly the origins of that public mask of insensitivity in the atmosphere of his childhood. Yet it was, on the whole, a happy childhood, and Mérimée’s relationship with his parents was always a positive and affectionate one. His parents carefully nurtured both his artistic and his intellectual interests, seeing him through his legal studies while introducing him to the social circles frequented by painters, writers, and scholars. Mérimée never used his training in the law directly, but it undoubtedly helped him gain entry into the government circles where he eventually made his career.
His legal studies completed, the young Mérimée devoted himself at first to the literary life, producing some journalism, some works for the theater, and a tribute to Scott in the form of a historical romance—all activities...
(The entire section is 705 words.)