Prosper Mérimée Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

ph_0111207200-Merimee.jpg Prosper Mérimée. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Prosper Mérimée (MEHR-ih-may) experimented with various literary forms at the start of his career, before discovering that fiction was his true artistic vocation. His first composition, never published, was a tragedy in the Romantic style concerning Oliver Cromwell, and the first work published was a set of four critical articles on the theater of Spain’s Golden Age.

Mérimée’s debut as an author of books was made in disguise, in the form of two literary hoaxes, one volume purporting to be a group of six plays translated from the Spanish, the other a collection of Illyrian folk poetry translated from the Serbian. The contents of both volumes were actually clever pastiches of Mérimée’s own invention. Under his own name, he then published a volume containing two plays based on historical material before publishing as a novelist, at the age of twenty-six, a well-received historical romance constructed around the episode of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Huguenots in 1572.

Mérimée’s first novel was followed almost immediately by a brilliant group of short stories that are generally credited with having established the short story in France as a valid new genre and that definitively confirmed Mérimée’s primary calling in literature as that of storyteller. Thereafter, he devoted his creative efforts almost exclusively to the writing of fiction, the only exceptions being two brief closet dramas that he allowed to be...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Perhaps the rarest of Prosper Mérimée’s public distinctions was his election, at the age of forty, to the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres, in recognition of his scholarly work as a student of antiquity, followed within a year by his election to the most prestigious of all such bodies, the French Academy, in recognition of his literary achievements. Yet, with characteristic irony, Mérimée was wont to mock this unusual honor of election to two such elite bodies and remarked to one interviewer that, if asked what had been the most painful day of his life, he would not name the day he had been forced to go to jail (for a published attack on the judiciary), but the day he had been inducted into the French Academy. Mérimée’s mockery of his double electoral triumph is, in the long view, perhaps justified, but the achievement is unmistakable evidence, nevertheless, of his stature in French cultural life during his lifetime.

One of Mérimée’s most significant contributions to French culture was certainly the preservation and restoration of many major architectural monuments that would otherwise have been allowed to decay or disappear. This heritage is still visible, in every corner of France.

Mérimée’s first novel, A Chronicle of the Times of Charles the Ninth, still ranks as one of the best French examples of the historical romance in the manner of Sir Walter Scott, and at least two of Mérimée’s plays have...

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Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

While Prosper Mérimée is best remembered as an important innovator of the short-story form in France, he was, as befits a member of the French intelligentsia of the mid-nineteenth century, a contributor to all of the literary genres. He dabbled in poetry; wrote astonishing plays, romances, and a major novel; contributed as a journalist to the art and literary criticism of his time; distinguished himself as a translator of Russian literature into French; and is largely responsible for introducing Russian literature to the French reading public.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

In Prosper Mérimée, readers encounter an amazingly versatile writer, scholar, and public official. Best known for his short stories, which, as Henry James once commented, are full of “pregnant brevity” and a “magical after-resonance,” Mérimée also belonged to the French Romantic generation. With the Romantics, he shared a taste for exoticism, folk culture, and local color, and he practiced unsparingly that uniquely Romantic form of irony, whereby writers distance themselves from their work, mocking themselves and their own creations. In his desire, however, to shock the bourgeoisie, indulge in complex wordplays, and mock Romantic conventions, he resembles the writers of the later Young France movement. Simultaneously, his objectivity and the concision of his narratives link him with realism. Renowned as a writer of short fiction, he has also been praised for his painstakingly researched reconstruction of the past in his historical works and his innovations in dramatic theory and practice. Named to the French Academy in 1844, Mérimée was a cosmopolitan figure in the cultural life of Europe. His work was favorably reviewed by contemporary English periodicals.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Auchincloss, Louis. “Prosper Mérimée.” In Writers and Personality. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2005. Mérimée is one of the authors whom Auchincloss, himself a novelist, discusses in his examination of writers’ personalities and how their temperaments, interests, and other personal traits are linked to their fiction.

Bowman, 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. Includes a bibliographic note and extensive references.

Dale, Robert C. The Poetics of Prosper Mérimée. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton, 1966. An exploration of the creative theory that underlies Mérimée’s writing. 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.

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. Includes illustrations, appendixes, a comprehensive bibliography, and an index.

Smith, Maxwell A. Prosper Mérimée. New York: Twayne, 1972. A readable introductory study of the author’s life and works. 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. The select bibliography includes editions, collected works, bibliographies, translations, correspondence, and biographical critical studies.