Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

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Mérimée, Prosper

  • ArchitectureLiterature (fictional prose/drama)Literature (poetry/verse)Publishing, periodicalsFrench
  • Author:
    Zantedeschi, Francesca
  • New VIAF ID:
  • Title:
    Mérimée, Prosper
  • Text:

    Prosper Mérimée (Paris 1803 – Cannes 1870) was the son of a painter. His mother – herself the granddaughter of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, author of Beauty and the Beast and other classic French fairy tales (1757) – stimulated his interest in English literature; in 1823, he obtained a law degree. He commenced his literary career with two literary hoaxes (Le Théâtre de Clara Gazul, 1825, purporting to be the work of a Spanish woman playwright, and La Guzla ou choix de poésies illyriques, 1827, an anthology of blood-and-vengeance ballads purportedly noted down from oral recitation in the Balkans) played into Romantic exoticism then in vogue at the time, following the Spanish theme of Victor Hugo’s Hernani and the wide popularity of Balkan oral poetry as published by Alberto Fortis and Vuk Karadžić. A historical novel (Chronique du temps de Charles IX) followed in 1829; in that same year he published his well-known series of short stories (Mateo Falcone was the first of them).

    A Liberal, he became a member of the senior civil service under the July Monarchy. He was appointed principal private secretary of the Minister of Trade in 1831.

    In 1834, Mérimée was appointed Inspecteur général des monuments historiques, a position created in 1830 by the Minister of Public Education, François Guizot. In that year he set out on a field trip to southern France; his archeological observations were published in 1835 as Notes d’un voyage dans le midi de la France. Mérimée relied in the expertise and advice of Arcisse de Caumont, an antiquarian from Normandy. Mérimée was also familiar with the works of Ludovic Vitet, his predecessor as Inspecteur général des monuments historiques and author of a Rapport au Ministre de l’Intérieur sur les monumens, les bibliothèques, les archives et les musées des départements de l’Oise, de l’Aisne (1831), and with Alexandre Laborde, an eclectic antiquarian, who was sympathetic towards medieval art and had introduced the notion of the relationship between art and history in French archeology. Mérimée was also acquainted with the works of British archeologists, who were considered to be highly accomplished scholars of medieval archeology, on account of their thorough researches on the origins of their national art. While almost all the works of the period focused on the (more Gothic) art and architecture of northern France, Mérimée was fascinated by Romanesque art, and was among the first to acknowledge its genuine artistic value, considering it to be a style of its own rather than an amalgam of derivative styles.

    Mérimée’s Notes d’un voyage dans l’Ouest de la France (1836) recorded his observations about the medieval monuments he discovered while travelling through the Breton departments, as well as Anjou and Poitou; Notes d’un voyage en Auvergne and Notes d’un voyage en Corse appeared in 1837 and 1840. In 1837 (when he also published an Essai sur l’architecture religieuse au Moyen Age), he was appointed secretary of the Commission des Monuments Historiques, an office he held until 1839, and which was formative in setting the agenda for the various restorations by Viollet-le-Duc and others. Mérimée was appointed member of the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres in 1843, of the Académie française in 1844, and the Society of Antiquaries of London, in 1853. That same year, he published Des monuments de France, and was appointed life Senator. He became an intimate friend of Napoleon III and his Eugénie.

    Nonetheless, Mérimée is best known for his intensive literary activity. A prolific writer, he composed numerous short stories, such as, for example, La Vénus d’Ille (1837), Colomba (1840), Carmen (1845), and Lokis (as “Le manuscrit du professeur Wittenbach”, published in La revue des Deux Mondes, in 1869), mostly with passionate and sensational, sometimes supernatural storylines set in the wilder peripheries of Europe, but with an ironic distance deriving from the use of detached, scholarly narrators. Mérimée was also among the first French authors to be interested in Russian literature: in 1849 he translated Puškin.

    Word Count: 680

  • Notes:

    A visualization of Prosper Mérimée’s correspondence network is online at ERNiE under the “Letters” tab; or click here.

    Word Count: 21

  • Direct URL:
  • Article version:
  • DOI:
  • Bercé, Françoise (1998). La naissance des Monuments historiques. La correspondence de Prosper Mérimée avec Ludovic Vitet (1840-1848) (Paris: Éditions du CTHS)

    Darcos, Xavier (2004). Prosper Mérimée (Paris: Flammarion)

    Dupont-Sommer, André (1970). “Prosper Mérimée et l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres”, Comptes-rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 114 .4: 626-648

    Fony, Antonia (ed.) (1999). Prosper Mérimée. Écrivain, archéologue, historien (Geneva: Droz)

    Monglond, André (1922). “Au pays de la Vénus d’Ille: Mérimée et Jaubert de Passa”, Revue d’histoire littéraire de la France, 29: 17-46

    Williams, Elizabeth (1981). “Prosper Mérimée et l’archéologie médiévale du Midi de la France en 1834”, Annales du Midi: revue archéologique, historique et philologique de la France méridionale, 93 .3: 293-312

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    All articles in the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe edited by Joep Leerssen are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://www.spinnet.eu.

    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Zantedeschi, Francesca, 2021. "Mérimée, Prosper", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 03-09-2021, consulted 23-09-2021.