Short summary - Carmen - Prosper Mérimée

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Carmen
Prosper Mérimée

In the early autumn of 1830, an inquisitive scientist (Mérimée himself is guessed in him) hires a guide in Cordoba and goes in search of ancient Munda, where the last victorious Spanish battle of Julius Caesar took place. The midday heat forces him to seek refuge in a shady gorge. But the place by the stream has already been taken. A dexterous and strong fellow with a gloomy proud look and blond hair rises cautiously to meet the narrator. The traveler disarms him with an offer to share a cigar and a meal with him, and then they continue on their way together, despite the eloquent signs of the guide. They stop for the night in a distant Venta. The companion puts a blunderbuss next to him and falls asleep with the sleep of the righteous, but the scientist cannot sleep. He leaves the house and sees a stealthy guide who is going to warn the Uhlan post that the robber Jose Navarro is staying in Venta, and two hundred ducats are promised for his capture. The traveler warns the companion of the danger. They are now linked by bonds of friendship.
The scientist continues his search in the library of the Dominican monastery in Cordoba. After sunset, he usually walks along the banks of the Guadalquivir. One evening on the embankment, a woman comes up to him, dressed as a grisette, and with a bunch of jasmine in her hair. She is short, young, well built, and has huge slanting eyes. The scientist is struck by her strange, wild beauty and especially her look, at the same time sensual and wild. He treats her to cigarettes, learns that her name is Carmen, that she is a gypsy and knows how to guess. He asks permission to take her home and show him his art. But the fortune-telling is interrupted at the very beginning - the door is thrown open, and a man wrapped in a cloak bursts into the room with curses. The scientist recognizes him as his friend Jose. After a furious skirmish with Carmen in an unfamiliar language, Jose takes the guest out of the house and shows the way to the hotel. The scientist discovers that in the meantime, the gold striking watch that Carmen liked so much has disappeared. The distressed and ashamed scientist leaves the city. A few months later, he again finds himself in Cordoba and learns that the robber Jose Navarro has been arrested and is awaiting execution in prison. The curiosity of a researcher of local customs prompts the scientist to visit the robber and listen to his confession.
Jose Lizarrabengoa tells him that he is Basque, was born in Elisondo and belongs to an old noble family. After a bloody fight, he flees from his native land, enters the dragoon regiment, serves diligently and becomes a foreman. But one day, unfortunately, he is assigned to guard a Seville tobacco factory. On that Friday, he sees Carmen for the first time - his love, torment and death. Together with other girls, she goes to work. She has an acacia flower in her mouth, and she walks, waving her hips, like a young Cordoba mare. Two hours later, an outfit is called in to end the bloody quarrel in the factory. Jose must take to prison the instigator of the quarrel, Carmen, who disfigured the face of one of the workers with a knife. On the way, she tells Jose a touching story that she, too, is from the Basque country, in Seville all alone, she is being hounded like a stranger, that's why she took up the knife. She lies, as she has lied all her life, but Jose believes her and helps her escape. For this he was demoted and sent to prison for a month. There he receives a gift from Carmen - a loaf with a file, a gold coin and two piastres. But Jose does not want to run - military honor is holding him back. Now he serves as a simple soldier. One day he is standing by the clock at the house of his colonel. A carriage arrives with gypsies invited to entertain the guests. Among them is Carmen. She makes an appointment for Jose, they spend together a recklessly happy day and night. At parting, Carmen says: “We are quits. Goodbye ... You know, son, I think I fell in love with you a little. But <…> a wolf and a dog can't get along, "Jose tries in vain to find Carmen. She only appears when you need to lead the smugglers through the breach in the city wall, which is guarded by Jose. So, for Carmen's promise to give him the night, he breaks the military oath. He then kills the lieutenant, whom Carmen brings to her. He becomes a smuggler. For a while, he is almost happy, since Carmen is sometimes affectionate with him - until the day when Garcia Krivoy, a disgusting freak, appears in the squad of smugglers. This is Carmen's husband, whom she finally manages to get out of prison. Jose and his "associates" are involved in smuggling, robbing and sometimes killing travelers. Carmen serves them as a liaison and gunner. Rare meetings bring short happiness and unbearable pain. Once Carmen hints to Jose that during the next "case" it would be possible to substitute a crooked husband under enemy bullets. Jose prefers to kill his opponent in a fair fight and becomes Carmen's rum (gypsy husband), but she is more and more burdened by his obsessive love. He invites her to change her life, go to the New World. She laughs at him: "We are not created to plant cabbage." After a while, Jose learns that Carmen is fascinated by the matador Lucas. Jose is furiously jealous and again invites Carmen to leave for America. She replies that she is fine in Spain too, but she still won't live with him. Jose takes Carmen to a secluded gorge and asks again and again if she will follow him. “I cannot love you. I don’t want to live with you, ”Carmen replies and rips off the ring he presented to her. In a rage, Jose stabs her twice with a knife. He buries her in the forest - she always wanted to find eternal peace in the forest - and puts a ring and a small cross in the grave.
In the fourth and final chapter of the novel, the narrator selflessly shares with the readers his observations on the customs and language of the Spanish gypsies. In the end, he cites a significant gypsy proverb: "A fly is ordered to move in a tightly closed mouth."