Carmen is a depictive work that represents the social and gender issues that were present in nineteenth century France and Spain. It introduces readers to numerous aspects of life including treatment of women, prejudices towards individuals and groups, social structures, and accepted social behavior. Carmen, as both a novel and opera, is a literary work that was written not only to entertain but also to reflect nineteenth century society.
Carmen, as a literary work, has experienced many changes throughout its existence. The French author Prosper Merimme originally wrote Carmen. Merimme was known mostly for his long stories and ability to write in an objective and psychological style, a trait rarely found during the age of Romanticist literature (Encyclopedia). Along with others, he is considered a leading figure in French literature during the nineteenth century (Wright 188). The story of Carmen first appeared on October first 1845 in La Revue des Deux Mondes, a bi-weekly travel journal that often depicted wild stories set in exotic lands (McClary 1). The Novel is told from a French perspective and incorporates many of Merimme’s intrinsic notions of French superiority typical of the time period. The narrator is a French traveler who embarks upon Spain and there encounters numerous individuals and adventures. Once in Spain the noble Frenchman encounters a savage he calls Don Jose and a fortune telling gypsy named Carmen. After a brief encounter with the alluring and dangerous Carmen, the Frenchman leaves to pursue further adventures. In the end, the narrator returns to find Don Jose in prison for the murder of Carmen.
Even within this first version of Carmen, the plot is “lined with questions of control and mastery(McClary 3).” The novel itself is a depictive literary work that deals with the long-standing battle between the sexes. From the very beginning women are marked as enemies and, indeed, all threats and conflicts within the work are attributed to the lead female character, Carmen (5). At the conclusion of the novel the only possible theory that can be deduced is that masculinity is dominate over femininity and that women “constitute the greatest threat to the bond that exists between the men” (7). Aside from the extraordinary bond that exists between the males and the distance that exists between the sexes, there are also other important issues that deal with sexual inequality. Carmen, as the dominant female character, has many predominantly male characteristics. This gives her an integrity and honor that is both feared and hated by those around her (9). Women often insult and quarrel with her and men feel inadequate when around her. Carmen is the most forceful of all characters and often uses her sexuality, her most threatening aspect, to get what she wants. As a character Carmen surpasses Don Jose in the realm of the sexual and the narrator in the realm of language (13). The novel also introduces many new aspects into the literature of the nineteenth century. It pioneers issues of sexuality and dominance and deals with many social and racial topics that exist in European society. Finally it explores nineteenth century Spain and is an exceptional
example of the French dominant character that was often associated with the formation of a unified, dominate French nation.
Later in the nineteenth century Carmen, the highly successful and provocative novel, was transformed into an opera. The composer approached was Georges Bizet and after numerous set backs he completed the opera that eventually became an international classic. Bizet collaborated with librettists Ludovic Halevy and Henri Meilhac to create the opera that reflected the general plot of the novel written by Merimme in the mid eighteen hundreds. The opera was premiered in the French Opera- Comique despite its very serious and provocative content. It was originally meant for the serious opera house but due to its continual use of spoken...