Mérimée scholars must frequently contend with a number of damaging stereotypes like the one Antonia Fonyi points to in her introduction to Prosper Mérimée: Ecrivain, archéologue, historien. Fonyi suggests that Mérimée’s close association with the corridors of political power tarnished his reputation as a novelist—literati have never done favors for political insiders. “Even today, Mérimée is criticized because of his position in the Second Empire, his role as senator, his place in court, his proximity to power” [“De nos jours encore, on reproche à Mérimée sa position sous le second Empire, sa fonction de sénateur, sa place à la cour, sa proximité du pouvoir” (ix)]. But she quickly points out that “The arguments always concern the man, never the work. On the contrary, from 1835 to 1870, under every political regime, Mérimée’s work is founded on a solid opposition to the established order, worse, to any kind of order at all” [“Les arguments . . . concernent toujours l’homme, jamais l’oeuvre. . . . Au contraire, de 1825 à 1870, du Théâtre de Clara Gazul à Djoûmane . . . sous tous les régimes politiques, elle se fonde sur une ferme opposition à l’ordre établi, pire, à l’ordre tout court” (ix)].
Instead of weakening his writing, a close reading of Mérimée’s correspondence reveals an often extreme frustration with the institutions in which he worked and alludes to fiction as his outlet for making subversive social and political commentaries.† In December 1829 he wrote to Mme Récamier: “I am the author of several mediocre works and as such my name has appeared in the papers. Stranger my whole life to politics, in my books I expressed (perhaps too openly) my opinion. [“Je suis auteur de quelques médiocres ouvrages, et à ce titre mon nom a paru dans les journaux. Etranger toute ma vie à la politique, dans mes livres j’ai montré (et peut être trop crûment) mon opinion” (Correspondance générale 1: 51).] In other words, his fiction works against the very regimes which (based on superficial evidence) people assume he supports.
Fonyi concludes that criticizing Mérimée as the embodiment of corrupt regimes is “an image, passed on from one generation to the next for over a century, that it is time to invalidate by new interpretations, by future research” [“Mais, quelles que soient les autres, le reproche adressé à un écrivain parmi les plus intransigeants d’avoir été le représentant d’un régime corrompu n’est qu’une idée reçue, qu’une image, transmise de génération depuis plus d’un siècle, et qu’il est temps d’invalider par des interprétations nouvelles: par des travaux à venir” (ix).]
This website’s objective is to move in the direction Fonyi indicates, to provide information about Mérimée’s work—in English—that will help researchers recast him as an author who allegorizes political tensions of 19th-century France and to publish articles that highlight a Mérimée whose works resist the dominant historical and political discourses of his day.
Dr. Corry Cropper, Brigham Young University
† Several articles in Fonyi’s book move toward recasting Mérimée in this light. Scott Carpenter’s 1997 NCFS article shows Mérimée as politically subversive even while a Senator of the Second Empire.