Carmen

Carmen is a novel written by Prosper Mérimée, first published in 1845, which has been adapted numerous times, including the famous opera by Georges Bizet. The plot is structured into four parts.

In part one Mérimée meets a man, whom his guide believes to be a dangerous bandit, whilst searching for a historical battle ground. He shares his food and cigar with the robber and makes a friend out of him despite his guide’s worries. By coincidence they also stay at the same inn that night. The guide tries to explain to Mérimée how dangerous the notorious Don José is but Mérimée remains unalarmed. Unable to let a dangerous man escape the guide rides to the nearest town to call upon the guards to arrest him. Fearing for his new found friend Mérmiée informs the bandit, who is then able to escape.

In part two Mérmiée visits Córdoba a town where all the women jump in the river at a certain time of day when the clock strikes and meets Carmen, a beautiful Romani gypsy, who is fascinated by his watch. She takes him back to her home where she performs a fortune telling but they are interrupted by Don José and Mérmiée is escorted out, only to discover his watch is missing. A couple of months later, again in Córdoba, Mérmiée hears that Don José is to be garrotted so he goes to visit him in prison and listens to his story.

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Part three consists of Don José’s life story, being narrated from his prison cell. One day, whilst working as a guard at a factory, he met Carmen and had to arrest her for cutting the face of one of her co-workers, however her persuasive tongue caused him to let her go, resulting in his own imprisonment. After his release they spend the day together enjoying each other’s company and then meet again and she convinces him to let some smugglers past the post he is guarding. In a fight that followed he killed a lieutenant and fled, joining her gang of outlaws. He learns the skills of a smuggler but has developed such strong feelings for Carmen that her teasing other men sends him mad with jealousy. He learns she has a husband and one night, while she is with an English gentlemen, provokes a knife fight with him and kills him. José then marries Carmen. However, she gets caught up in an affair with a man named Lucas and José again feels jealousy. He pleads her to start a new and honest life with him in America but she argues she cannot leave, she has gypsy blood. She explains how she always knew he would be the death of her and in a fit of rage he stabs her to death and then turns himself in. José blames the Romani for their way of life and says that their love was fated to fail.

Part four of the novel is often published in the appendices as it was added to the text after the date of original publication. Readers may expect from this to be given details of José’s execution. I thought it might have worked well to have José’s reflection on the story, to hear his regrets and gratitudes. However, the section explores the Romani way of life and works in little tales and myths about the Romani culture and lifestyle. The section reads almost as a list of scholarly remarks, about appearance and language and the way others view their customs. This isn’t entirely relevant to the story but adds some background knowledge. I felt this section was a little jarring and did not add a lot to the story.

The main body of the text, the first three parts, did not flow quite as well as I hoped but it was interesting to read about something different. As far as I know gypsies aren’t a well written topic of literature so purely for that fact I would recommend reading Carmen. There’s definitely a lot packed into a short story of only 50 odd pages and overall I enjoyed the plot and character development.

Carmen the opera is notably different from the short story, however. The opera focuses only on part three of the story and some characters play a greater part than they are given in the novel, and some characters are eliminated completely.

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