French author Prosper Mérimée was born on September 28, 1803. If you’ve ever hummed the Toréador theme from Carmen, thank Mérimée, for it was his novella that inspired Bizet’s opera. Mérimée was a brilliant scholar of law, Greek, Spanish, English, and Russian. He translated many of the Russian classics into French for the first time. He loved what was mystical and foreign, thus the exotic settings of most of his writing. He also moonlighted as a fashion writer under the pen-name Clara Gazul. If all of the above wasn’t enough, he was also a gifted archeologist, which led to his appointment as the inspector-general of historical monuments. The official list of French monuments is known as the Base Mérimée in his honor.
He was a close friend of the Spanish Countess of Montiljo, his Carmen figure. The Countess had a lovely daughter named Eugénie, who ended up as the wife of Napoléon III. Accounts differ as to whether Mérimée aided or opposed the match, but at any event, he was rewarded with the post of senator during the Second Empire. Another close friend was George Sand (Aurore Dupin), with whom he discovered the renowned The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries during a stay at a medieval chateau.
Mérimée died in Cannes on September 23, 1870.
Today’s expression, être prospère (etruh prospair) is obviously a tribute to the writer’s first name. It means “to be flourishing or prosperous.” He certainly had a flourishing, multi-faceted life.
Carmen (English edition)
- Four Fabulously Fiery Carmens (wqxr.org)