The original story of Carmen reads from the perspective of the author, Prosper Mérimée, as he journeys through Spain on academic business in the 1830s.
The novella is separated into four sections, the first two and last of which were omitted by Georges Bizet’s opera and most stage adaptions to follow.
In section one, Mérimée meets Don José, a kind and hospitable young man whom he assists in evading arrest after Mérimée’s guide discovers Don José’s true identity as a wanted thief.
In the second section, Mérimée has another fascinating interaction, this time with a Gypsy woman named Carmencita. He goes to her home in hopes of having his fortune read, but is rudely interrupted by none other than Don José. Carmen and Don José have a heated conversation in a language Mérimée does not understand, but shortly after he is escorted out by Don José and continues on his solo adventure.
Months later, Mérimée finds out that Don José is set to be executed the next day. Mérimée goes to visit the prisoner and hear his life’s story.
Part three is where the staged adaptations normally begin. Don José tells the writer about how he came to know the gypsy and how he ended up in jail. They became lovers after Don José helped Carmen escape from jail, but shortly thereafter became violently jealous of her other suitors.
Two were slain by Don José, but Carmen still chose another man over him. Don José was so overcome by passion and jealousy that he stabbed his beloved to death and turned himself in.
Part four simply explains Romani culture and some of their history.